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Melting ice on Danube damages 100s of boats

By Dusan Stojanovic

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 20 2012 5:10 a.m. MST

A skier makes his way in front of snow covered roofs in Lech, western Austria, Monday, Feb. 20, 2012.

Matthias Schrader, Associated Press

BELGRADE, Serbia — Big chunks of melting ice moving on the Danube River have damaged hundreds of small boats and several restaurants located on rafts, officials said Monday.

The thick ice, which had closed hundreds of miles (kilometers) of Europe's busy waterway during the region's recent cold snap, started moving Sunday afternoon because of rising temperatures.

The 1,777-mile-long (2,860-kilometer-long) river flows through nine countries and is vital for transport, power and industry. But the ice nearly totally blocked it from Austria to the Black Sea.

As ice floes up to 1.6 feet (half a meter) thick began to break up in the Belgrade area, hundreds of parked boats crashed into each other and several barges were swept away, officials said.

One raft restaurant sank and several others were damaged as they broke away from the shore.

Officials were trying to determine whether the melting snow and ice will cause flooding, or if last year's drought, which lowered water levels in the Danube, will make that unlikely.

Nikola Marjanovic, a Serbian water supply system official, said there is no need for panic but the situation must be carefully monitored. "At this moment we don't know what will happen," he said.

Despite the warming temperatures, some 3,300 people remain stranded by deep snow that hit remote areas of southern Serbia and they can only be reached by helicopters, said Serbian emergency official Predrag Maric.

In neighboring Montenegro, the U.S. military responded to a request from the government by dispatching two Black Hawk helicopters to evacuate people from snowbound regions of the small Balkan country, the U.S. Embassy said.

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