Illegal construction, logging seen as possible worsening factors in fatal floods in Bulgaria’s Varna

Illegal construction that obstructed the stormwater drainage system and illegal logging that heightened the risk of landslides were being named as among possible exacerbating factors in the fatal floods that swept through Varna’s Asparouhovo area, leaving at least 10 people dead.

This emerged from video and photographs posted online showing how a drainage gully “ends” in housing built over it. The canal passes under several houses and on to a ramshackle canal.

It appeared that when the torrential rain of June 19 hit the Bulgarian Black Sea city, the reason that Asparouhovo was deluged disastrously was that its stormwater system could not cope.

Further, residents told reporters in the city, extensive illegal logging had stripped trees from a large area above the neighbourhood, worsening the risk of landslides and meaning that water hurtled unobstructed down the slopes.

Early on June 20, prosecutors announced that they had opened pre-trial proceedings in connection with the deaths in the floods in Asparouhovo. The number of dead remains unclear, with some people still missing and clearance of debris – including cars and other large objects – still underway.

Reports from the area late on the afternoon of June 20 said that electricity supply was being restored.

The cabinet said that it would make available 10 000 leva (about 5000 euro) aid for the families of those who died in the June 19 floods in Varna and Dobrich, a current death toll of 13. Labour and social policy minister Hassan Ademov said after attending a meeting of the crisis staff in the city that about 250 to 300 people who needed once-off financial assistance of up to 325 leva had been identified.

A fundraising appeal raised more than 200 000 leva in just a few hours for victims of the floods in north-eastern Bulgaria. The sum came through the special number for SMSes (“DMS Varna” to the number 17 777 via all mobile operators in Bulgaria).
A further 5000 leva came through donations to a special bank account.

On social network site Facebook, a group was organised to set up a collection point for aid to the Varna flood victims, at 26 Ivan Vazov Street. The call was for blankets, food and baby food.

Bulgaria’s European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva confirmed to the media that she was donating 20 000 leva of her own money.

Two companies, Bulgartabac and South Stream Transport, each said that they were donating 50 000 leva each.

Georgieva, speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio, said that the European Commission was ready to provide assistance to Bulgaria, if necessary, in the form of rescue teams and pumps. However, presently this was not required and the civil protection system in Bulgaria was working.

Georgieva said that she had told Bulgaria’s president, prime minister and interior minister that if assistance was needed, “we will respond immediately”.

She said that Bulgaria could apply for EU assistance under the Solidariy Fund if damage is more than 0.6 per cent of GDP.

Fans of Levski football club, due to gather in the coastal town of Shkorpilovtsi this weekend as part of celebrations of the club’s 100th anniversary, said that they were arranging to join in as volunteers to assist in rescue and clearing-up work in Varna.

The event was planned several months ago and Levski supporters were not cancelling the trip, but instead of the festivities were launching an initiative to help victims of the floods.

Bulgaria’s northern neighbour Romania said that it would provide people and equipment to assist in the flood-hit areas of Bulgaria, if this assistance was required.

Other bodies to offer assistance included the Electronic Communication Network and Information Systems Agency, to help with restoring communications infrastructure, and the Railway Infrastructure Company, to help civil protection teams in assisting injured people and to deal with damage.

Military Cougar helicopters were conducting reconnaissance flights to clarify the scale of the disaster.

Helicopters were used to airlift tourists stranded at six hotels at the Albena beach resort on Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast, reports said. Also rescued by a Cougar military helicopter was a man who had climbed on to the roof of his caravan to escape the floodwaters.

In areas along Varna’s beaches, there were fallen trees, areas blocked by landslides, damaged jetties and concrete walls.

Roads to several villages in the Dobrich region remained closed in the afternoon, but the road from Albena to Balchik, Kavarna and Dourankoulak that was closed in the morning because it was underwater had been reopened, local authorities said.

Heavy rains also hit the towns of Shoumen, Gabrovo and Veliko Turnovo. In the latter area, the most serious situation was in the village of Kilifarevo when the river Belitsa burst its banks, drowning animals, seriously damaging houses, cars and tarred road surfaces.

President Rossen Plevneliev and European Commissioner Georgieva will visit the most severely-affected areas of Varna and Dobrich on June 21.

On June 23, declared a national mourning for the flood victims, Plevneliev will attend a service in Varna’s Assumption of the Virgin cathedral.

Bulgarian Orthodox Church Varna Metropolitan Yoan ordered church properties to be used as shelters for people rendered homeless by the June 19 floods. In co-operation with the Bulgarian Red Cross, Varna’s Sveti Nikola church was providing hot meals for the needy.

European Commission President José Barroso, in a message to Bulgarian President Plevneliev, expressed on behalf of the Commission and his own solidarity with the people and the authorities of Bulgaria in facing the losses in human lives and the dramatic consequences of the recent floods in eastern Bulgaria.



The Sofia Globe staff

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