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article imageWaters recede in Serbia to reveal a ghost town

By Katarina Subasic (AFP)     May 20, 2014 in World

The roar of an armoured vehicle ploughing through muddy water was the only sound on the deserted streets of Obrenovac, a Serbian town hit by some of the worst flooding of the past week.

The trucks, carrying journalists and foreign envoys, made their way past smashed and overturned cars floating along the central streets, where waters had receded but were still a metre high.

Signs of near-apocalyptic devastation were everywhere.

On the outskirts of town, teams of health experts in olive-green protective clothing were carrying out the grim task of dragging dead animals out of abandoned farmyards in a bid to prevent outbreaks of disease.

On the main street, doors forced open by the rushing tide had left whole shops drowned in dirt. The mannequins of one fashion boutique were totally submerged in grey mud.

An open-air market, its stalls underwater, had become a make-shift marina for rescue teams.

A football pitch had become a swimming pool. At its worst, the water had reached "above the goals and up to the higher rows of seats," a local policeman told AFP.

In some areas, the tops of lampposts were the only indication that a street lay somewhere beneath the stinking waters.

Obrenovac was a town of 20,000. More than half were evacuated during the four days of torrential rains.

Serbian rescue workers drive their way through the flooded town of Obrenovac  40 kilometers west of ...
Serbian rescue workers drive their way through the flooded town of Obrenovac, 40 kilometers west of Belgrade, on May 18, 2014
Alexa Stankovic, AFP

It could be weeks before they are allowed to return. Debris must first be cleared and the town declared disease-free, health experts have warned.

- 'My heart broke' -

Veselin Rankovic, a 78-year old farmer from a nearby village, first knew about the floods when his cows started mooing.

He fled with his family to seek shelter in Obrenovac before being evacuated to a shelter in Belgrade later that day.

"My heart broke. I left everything, my cows, pigs, dogs, chickens. But I am blessed that my family is alive," he told AFP.

The town was mostly home to working class families, and many face an anxious wait to discover how much they have lost to the rampaging waters.

Marko Obojcic, a 44-year-old carpenter, was evacuated to the capital, but has applied to return with clean-up teams soon.

"Nights were the worst. All you could hear was the howling of dogs unable to swim across the water," he said.

A girl plays on a matress in a shelter for people evacuated from the flooded town of Obrenovac on Ma...
A girl plays on a matress in a shelter for people evacuated from the flooded town of Obrenovac on May 19, 2014, some 30km southwest of Belgrade
Alexa Stankovic, AFP

With temperatures rising suddenly after the worst rains in 120 years, a few dry patches had started to appear. A group of men were trying to dry their vehicles, stuck in a mud after the water receded.

"Have you brought us some food?" a shoeless woman in her 40s wearing muddy jeans shouted at reporters and foreign envoys touring the town.

But most houses and buildings were completely abandoned. Some were quit in a rush -- garage doors left open to reveal half-submerged cars inside.

In one garden, a pink tricycle awaited its young owner, probably sheltered in one of many evacuation centres hastily set up in Belgrade.

Just a few metres away, a small flock of sheep who had somehow survived the disaster, quietly and calmly grazed a patch of ground where the waters had finally drawn back.

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