(BELGRADE, Serbia) — The Arctic cold is over for now, but that does not mean the Balkans are out of the woods yet. In fact, if the weather gets too warm too fast, the troubles may only be beginning.
Already hundreds of boats and barges have been crushed by cascading ice on the Danube River, and fears are growing that a thaw accompanied by spring rains will cause massive flooding and even landslides. The snow through much of the region is still five times its normal depth.
“We’ve got a situation that could be problematic,” Aleksandar Prodanovic, flood control expert in Serbia told ABC News. “You have to take into consideration March and April rain as well as couple of weeks of winter left.”
When a freeze gripped Europe in the end of January and first half of February, a thick layer of ice was formed on the Danube — in some places as thich as 18 inches. Ship traffic was halted in many areas of Europe’s busy waterways.
But now, with temperatures climbing, the ice has begun breaking up around the Serb capital of Belgrade, and damage has already been significant.
In Belgrade, huge ice chunks crashed into hundreds of anchored boats and swept away a number of barges. A couple of Belgrade’s most popular floating restaurants have sunk. Now the U.N. is warning that parts of central and eastern Europe, until recently paralyzed by heavy snow, could face another catastrophe.
Margareta Wahlstroem, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction, said in a statement in Geneva that there are warning signs that, “destructive floods will add to the loss of life and economic assets” as temperatures rise. In addition to the flood warnings, Serbian emergency officials warned of a risk of landslides in some 2,300 locations, where the heaviest snow has fallen in the lowlands.
In neighboring Bosnia, emergency crews are preparing for a fresh battle with winter when rivers overflow with snowmelt. Bosnians are also being warned of the danger of possible landslides and citizens are asked to contribute to the country’s recovery by removing snow around their homes and trying to control of melting water.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Joe Sterling and Darran Simon, CNN
Ray Sanchez, Zayn Nabbi, Euan McKirdy and Angela Dewan, CNN
Samantha Beech, CNN
Eliza Mackintosh, CNN