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Greece, Bulgaria battle flooding; 8 dead

By Veselin Toshkov

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 7 2012 3:16 p.m. MST

A man walks during heavy snowfall near the flooded village of Bisser, 288 km (180 miles) east of the capital Sofia, on Tuesday, Feb 7, 2012. A dam in southern Bulgaria collapsed after heavy rain on Monday, flooding Bisser village and killing at least eight people, with 10 others still missing, authorities said. Civil defense chief Nikolai Nikolov said a 2.5-meter (8-foot) flood hit 700 houses in the village of Bisser, near the Greek border, after the dam on the Ivanovo reservoir collapsed.

Valentina Petrova, Associated Press

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Swollen rivers in Bulgaria and Greece burst their banks Tuesday, leaving dozens of homes underwater, as Bulgarian officials declared a day of mourning for eight people confirmed killed after a dam collapse nearly washed away their village.

Bulgaria's civil defense agency warned that two other, bigger dams were also on the brink of spilling over and residents were urged to prepare for an evacuation. Authorities have started a controlled release of water from the dams to prevent overflow.

Europeans across the continent have been battling more than a week of extreme weather, with thousands still trapped by snow in remote, mountain villages in the Balkans; hundreds — most of them homeless — dead after temperatures hit as low as minus 33 Fahrenheit (minus 36 Celsius); and authorities now facing the prospect of flooding caused by melting snow.

A day after the dam burst, the Bulgarian government declared a day of mourning, and streets in the village of Bisser were covered with sticky mud as people returned to their water-logged homes.

At least a dozen houses had collapsed, uprooted trees blocked roads and smashed cars sat abandoned along deserted streets. Veterinary officials were collecting the bodies of dead animals from streets still covered in snow.

Bisser Mayor Zlatka Valkova said she received a phone call about the dam and tried to get out of her office in time to alert people of the eight-foot-high (2.5-meter) torrent.

"I rushed out on the street, but then I saw the wave," she said. "It was terrible, it came with such speed that I couldn't do anything."

The village's 800 residents have been provided with food, water and medicine while the recovery operations continue. District Governor Irena Uzunova said eight people have been confirmed dead, and the whereabouts of an elderly couple remain unknown.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev and the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva arrived Tuesday to assess the extent of the damage.

"The next two weeks will be very difficult and the melting snow could make the situation very complex," Georgieva told reporters in Bisser.

Georgieva voiced sympathy over the loss of lives and of property of people "who had not been wealthy even before the disaster."

Further south, the heavy rain caused the Maritsa River to overflow its banks, leaving dozens of homes under water in the city of Svilengrad near the Greek border. Rescue crews helped transport nearly 100 residents to temporary shelters.

In Greece, rescuers had to help five elderly people escape from their flooded homes after the river Evros burst its banks near the country's northeastern border with Bulgaria. Several elderly residents were also evacuated overnight from another three villages in the area.

Greek civil protection authorities said a 40-year-old woman was drowned by a flash flood on the eastern Aegean Sea island of Symi late Monday, but no major damage was reported on the island. Heavy snowfall was reported across northern Greece, hampering road traffic and causing some power cuts in remote areas.

The Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday that an incursion of cold polar air from northern Russia brought extremely low temperatures over large parts of Europe.

The cold air was fed with strong moisture from the central Mediterranean Sea, causing heavy snowfall over parts of southeastern Europe.

Snow also caused headaches further north. Serbian emergency officials said the army will use explosives to break up ice on the Danube and Ibar rivers to try to prevent the possibility of flooding.

A 30-year-old woman died when large pieces of ice and snow collapsed on her in a suburb of the capital, Belgrade.

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