SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Heavy rain caused severe flash flooding in Bosnia, prompting evacuations, causing power outages in most of the capital, closing a key facility for oxygen used for COVID-19 patients and submerging roads in some parts of the Balkan country on Friday.
The only certified medicinal oxygen filling plant in Bosnia, part of Germany’s Messer Group, was among workplaces and homes in the suburbs of Sarajevo that had to be evacuated after being overrun by fast-moving flood water.
Avdo Delic, general manager of Messer’s Bosnia branch, said the plant was completely submerged, and voiced concern that hospitals around the country treating COVID-19 patients might run out of medicinal oxygen cylinders unless the company’s operations are quickly restored at alternative locations.
“We could not save the equipment, we had to save lives,” Delic said.
“Water came fast like a tsunami and it is fortunate that the Civil Protection was there with rescue boats,” he added.
Bosnia is seeing an increase of COVID-19 hospitalizations amid a recent surge of the virus. The country of 3.5 million has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe at under 20%. On Friday, it reported some 1,100 new daily infections and 32 deaths.
So far, Bosnia has confirmed more than 250,000 infections and over 11,000 deaths, one of the highest death rates in Europe per capita.
Hundreds of homes in the Sarajevo suburbs, along the rivers Bosnia, Tilava and Zeljeznica, and in the southwest part of the country, around the town of Konjic, had to be evacuated under unrelenting heavy downpours.
“Everything is under water, I just spoke with a friend who told me he cannot get out of his house because the water came up to the first floor,” said Salih Ramadani while walking away from his flooded home in the Sarajevo suburb of Otes.
“The situation is bad and we do not expect it to improve soon,” said Danis Memagic, a firefighter coordinating evacuations in the area.
Most parts of Sarajevo were left for hours without electric power due to the flooding of one of the main substations on the outskirts of the city. The power transmission company, Elektroprijenos, said the heavy rain was hindering attempts to get the power rerouted. By evening, electricity was back in most of the city.
Footage of the floods in Vojkovici, outside Sarajevo, showed a local gas station and motel sitting precariously close to the fast-flowing, swollen and muddy Zeljava river which had eaten away its banks.
Rising rivers flooded many local roads around Bosnia, forcing some schools to cancel classes.
Rain started late on Thursday and forecasts say it will continue to fall until Sunday, raising fears of a repeat of record flooding that affected about a third of the population in 2014.
It followed days of unseasonably warm weather with temperatures over 20 degrees Celsius.
Eldar Emric contributed to this story.
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Sabina Niksic, The Associated Press