Friday, June 20, 2014 2:50 pm
VARNA (AFP) – Flash floods in Bulgaria have killed at least 12 people including two children, with others missing after torrential rains lashed the east of the country, authorities said Friday.
The worst hit was the Asparuhovo neighbourhood of the Black Sea city of Varna, where at least 10 people including the two children perished, Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev said.
Two more victims were found in the nearby northeastern town of Dobrich, where 150 people were evacuated.
The normally picturesque hillside Asparuhovo was submerged after torrential rain pounded the region on Thursday evening, clogging garbage-filled drainage canals and turning the steep streets into raging torrents.
Dozens of smashed and upturned cars and uprooted trees littered Asparuhovo’s mud-splattered roads, making the area almost impassable as authorities feared more bodies might be found, an AFP photographer said.
“Thank God I managed to run away, otherwise I would have drowned,” said resident Branimir, 38. “Everyone panicked and started to run.”
The man said his next-door neighbours were still missing after their house was swept away.
“Neither I nor my grandfather have seen anything like this before. Everyone is shaking for fear that a new shock wave might come,” Branimir said.
Several rickety houses were totally destroyed by the water and authorities were unable to say whether their owners had survived.
Electricity in the area was cut off and authorities said it would not be restored for the time being due to safety concerns. Tap water was declared unsafe to drink.
Navy divers searched a canal linking Lake Varna to the Black Sea, where all the floodwater drained away, dragging with it cars, furniture, garbage and trees. The body of one victim, a man, was recovered from a submerged car.
The army and prisoners have joined in efforts to help evacuate people, clean up piles of garbage from the streets and drain the flooded buildings, including Varna military medical hospital.
Strong winds meanwhile prompted authorities to shut the port of Varna, Bulgaria’s largest.
– Horror movie –
Shocked Asparuhovo residents, home to some 25,000 people, likened the disaster to the set of a horror movie.
“I have never seen anything like this before, nor heard about a disaster like that from my father,” an elderly man told AFP, shaking his white-haired head in disbelief.
“We had to climb on the garage roof to save ourselves,” a woman in her 50s said.
“My house is beyond repair, buried under half a metre of mud,” Stefan Hristov, 25, told AFP.
The man, his small child and pregnant wife managed to save themselves by escaping through the roof.
People blamed nature but also human negligence in the European Union’s poorest country.
Varna municipal council member Kostadin Kostadinov told public BNR radio that massive logging of the beech forests overlooking the neighbourhood, illegal construction and poor maintenance of drains contributed to the tragedy.
“All this was happening before our eyes. The Roma horse-drawn carriages loaded with cut timber from the woods passed right in front of the police station. Illegal houses sprung up like mushrooms. This is a small neighbourhood, nothing can go unnoticed,” Kostadinov said.
There was no immediate information on the total damage bill as rescue efforts were hindered by continuing rainfall.
The government considered financial aid for the worst-hit families and volunteers organised a campaign to collect donations of bottled water, food and clothes.
Almost 100,000 euros ($135,000) were also collected within a few hours in a donation campaign.
Bulgaria’s European Emergency Response Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva was expected to visit the area on Saturday.
Heavy rains were forecast to continue across Bulgaria throughout Friday and more floods, even if not as bad, were reported in eastern and central Bulgaria.
Varna declared a day of mourning on Friday and Bulgaria was to observe a nationwide day of mourning on Monday.