While He Was Burying His Grandmother in Bosnia, Floods Submerged His Home in Serbia

Photographer: Marija Trbojevic

Rescue operations in the Balkans. Photographer: Marija Trbojevic. From 350.org. Used with permission.

This article written by Rastko Šejić for 350.org is a moving diary of events relating to the first few days of the floods in the Balkans. It has been published on Global Voices as part of a content sharing agreement.

16 May – Floods submerge my home in Serbia

At 6:00, an SMS from my younger sister Rastislava wakes me to a gloomy morning. It had been raining heavily for three days. My sister’s message read, “Our neighbourhood is under water.” I call her immediately.

From our third-floor apartment in Obrenovac, Serbia, my sister sees nothing but brown water, more than 1 meter high. She cannot get out on foot, there is no electricity and no running water. She woke up to the emergency sirens.

I’m in Bosnia. What can I do? I try to calm my sister down, tell her to pack a few basic things and wait for the rescue teams…then the mobile network goes down. I try again and again to reach family and friends in Obrenovac without success. Hours of silence.

Soon I see the first image of our house on the Internet. The water has reached the ground floor.

At 18:30 I finally get an SMS from my sister. Rescue teams have evacuated mothers and children from our building. There aren’t enough boats. I want to tell my sister to be patient but my message doesn’t get through.

At 2:30 on May 17, I finally get a call from my sister. She is on a bus. All wet but rescued. My sister is safe! I fall asleep on my notebook.

The next day, some of my friends get in touch. They are alive, either rescued or still in their homes in Obrenovac. Friends from all over the region call me to ask about my family, offer their homes and help. There are tears, smiles, love and rage at what happened. The Balkan wars and NATO bombings have not killed empathy.

May 18 – Emergency in my grandmother's hometown Brcko, Bosnia

A flooding emergency is declared in Brcko, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I currently am. I came here for my grandmother’s funeral. She died the weekend before the floods. Heavy military choppers are flying over the flooded areas, saving those trapped in their homes.

From the balcony of the apartment on the fifth floor where my dear late grandmother lived, I see the empty streets of a frightened town that is now split in two by the Brka river. The floods have completely isolated it from the rest of the world.

From the other side of the balcony, I see the flooded Sava river that now threatens the lives of millions of people in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. On the other side of the river, I can see the water glistening in the flooded village of Gunja, Croatia.

Toxic water in my Obrenovac

Experts say that this has been the worst rainfall since records began. My home town Obrenovac is said to have taken the hardest blow.

The course of the Kolubara river, which destroyed Obrenovac, was changed back in the 1970s, so that more coal could be excavated from the Kolubara open pit coal mines. All but one of these mines are now flooded. More than 1,000 hectares of dumped coal ashes and landfills have made the river water in Obrenovac toxic.

We have engineered nature for ages, exploiting it as if it belonged to us. Maybe this is the time for former Yugoslavian states that are dependent on coal to start thinking differently.

The beginning of the floods in Obrenovac, Serbia. Photographer: Marko Ristic

The beginning of the floods in Obrenovac, Serbia. Photographer: Marko Ristic. From 350.org. Used with permission.

United by pain and suffering, love and understanding

The images on the Internet and television are terrible. Lost lives, ruined homes, whole towns under water, landslides even took entire settlements, hundreds of thousands people displaced, children crying, no electricity, no drinking water for millions of people.

The body count is on the rise. A friend of my late father had a stroke and died within 30 minutes after he had been brought to the sports hall, the rescue centre in Belgrade. I know some of the 750 people reported missing personally.

A large-scale disaster unites people across the region in pain and suffering, love and understanding. They show their best traits. There are true heroes, real friends.

Disaster strips away everything that’s fake, all the make-up of daily politics, the rat race we are all a part of. A feeling that we are all human beings and an understanding for each other prevails. Rescue teams from Macedonia, Slovenia and Croatia came to help in Serbia and Bosnia. But the nation states don’t matter. This is about everyday people.

Disaster relief came immediately from all over the world. Our closest neighbours were the first to help with machines, rescue teams, vehicles, food and water. But the struggle to get back to normal life in the flooded areas is only just starting. We have lost a lot. Some have lost everything.

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