BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbian authorities ordered the urgent evacuation Monday of 12 villages and towns along the raging Sava River, including one where soldiers, police and volunteers have been working around the clock to protect Serbia's main power plant.
The coal-fired Nikola Tesla power plant, which supplies electricity for half of Serbia and most of Belgrade, is in the flood-hit town of Obrenovac, 16 miles upstream of the capital. Emergency crews have so far defended the plant by building walls of sandbags, but it's not clear whether those will withstand the force of an upcoming river surge.
Serbian police Chief Nebojsa Stefanovic ordered the town evacuated of civilians, along with 11 other villages along the Sava. Some 300 people were evacuated from Obrenovac by helicopter Monday, officials said.
Serbia and Bosnia are struggling with the worst flooding in southeastern Europe in 120 years of records. At least 35 people have died in five days of flooding caused by unprecedented torrential rain. Entire towns and villages are underwater, thousands of hills have crumpled into landslides and tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes.
The death toll is expected to rise as floodwaters recede.
The situation in Obrenovac was critical Monday, said Predrag Maric, a Serbian emergency official. The Sava flood wave was expected to begin to reach Obrenovac and Belgrade later Monday and peak by Wednesday.
Before Monday's order, some 7,800 people had already been evacuated from the town, where many homes were submerged. But some 2,000 people were still thought to be trapped on the higher floors of buildings there, without power or phone lines.
In Bosnia, Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija called the flood damage "immense" and compared it to the carnage during the country's 1992-95 war, which killed at least 100,000 and left millions homeless. He said the flooding has destroyed about 100,000 houses and 230 schools and hospitals and left a million people without drinking water.
"The only difference from the war is that less people have died," he said. "The country is devastated. … This is something that no war in the history of this country" ever accomplished.
Floods have also triggered more than 3,000 landslides across the Balkans. Aside from sweeping away homes and barns, the landslides have carried land mines left over from the region's war, along with their warning signs, to entirely new, often unknown, locations.