TENS OF thousands of people fled their homes in Bosnia and Serbia yesterday, after record flooding claimed at least 20 lives.
Authorities warned the death toll could rise further as flooding left some people needing to be rescued from their roofs by helicopter.
Meteorologists say the flooding is the worst since records began 120 years ago and is due to three months of rain falling in three days.
The rain eased in some parts yesterday but Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vucic told a press conference that more flooding on the Sava river will hit the country today.
Tennis star Novak Djokovic appealed for help for his native Serbia.
Djokovic, who is playing at the Italian Open tournament in Rome, tweeted yesterday: “Support for everyone! Let’s help the endangered! Join the aid action!”
Serbia’s Weather Centre said such a rainfall happens once in 100 years.
In the eastern Bosnian town of Bijeljina, around 10,000 people were being evacuated yesterday after the rain-swollen Sava pushed through flood defences.
Mayor Mico Micic appealed for help, saying “we need everything, we are under water”.
Officials in Bosnia say 12 people died and more bodies could emerge as water recedes from the dozens of cities flooded in the past three days.
Admir Malagic, a spokesman for Bosnia’s security ministry, said about a million people, or over a quarter of the country’s population, live in the affected area.
In Serbia – where there were eight deaths – emergency crews used boats and helicopters to rescue thousands trapped in the town of Obrenovac, 20 miles south-west of Belgrade.
In some places, floodwaters had reached the second floor of homes and residents had to be rescued by helicopter from their roofs.
Soldiers steered amphibious vehicles through streets under two to three metres of water to rescue an estimated 700 people crammed into the top floors of an Obrenovac primary school.
Up to 70 people at a time scrambled onto the vehicles, mainly women and children.
Others, stranded in flooded homes, climbed from roofs and balconies into small boats to be taken to safety.
The flooding in Obrenovac is threatening the Nikola Tesla power plant, Serbia’s biggest.“Our primary concern is to protect the power plant,” said Vucic. “We are doing all we can.”
Output at the Djerdap 1 power plant on the Danube river was cut by a quarter.
Thousands of volunteers have responded to government appeals to help build up flood defences along the Sava.
Bussed in from all over the country, the volunteers spent the night building sandbag barricades with soldiers and emergency crews.
Both Serbia and Bosnia have appealed for international help. A Russian team has joined rescue efforts in Serbia and many European Union countries have sent in equipment and emergency crews.
Scores of landslides hit as sodden hills gave way, also presenting a huge problem.
“They come unannounced in just a few seconds,” said Fahrudin Solak, civil protection official, said of the landslides.
Residents in both countries have mobilised through social media, collecting tons of food, blankets and clothing for the crisis-hit areas.