Marko Majstorovic, a member of Serbia’s volunteer Mountain Rescue Service, was one of the first rescuers on site on May 14, after devastating floods swept through the Serbian city of Obrenovac.
“You cannot imagine what it was like,” Majstorovic told HuffPost Live. “You see rivers running through the streets. People have no power, no electricity, no water. All the cars which are parked on the street are submerged, and the lights on those cars are on. It’s very, very spooky.”
Obrenovac, located just 18 miles outside of Serbia’s capital city Belgrade, has witnessed some of the worst damage in the historic floods that have left the entire Balkan region reeling after three months worth of rain fell in just three days. Nearly two weeks after the rain stopped falling, large parts of Obrenovac remain underwater, and 14 residents have been found dead.
“As you progress through the city on boat, there are so many people crying for help, asking for you to pick them up,” said Majstorovic. “You can’t help them all. It’s a feeling that I will never forget.”
In Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, rescue and recovery efforts continue, as at least 50 people are dead and more than 2 million people have been affected by the region’s worst flooding in over 120 years. Surging waters and landslides have dislodged some of the 120,000 land mines left over from the war that broke up the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s.
In areas where the water has receded, rotting animal carcasses carry the threat of disease.
“This story is just beginning to develop,” said Pavlovic, reporting from Sarajevo. “The land is going to require four to five years to recover. It’s really hard to find an optimistic aspect to this story.”
The agricultural nations have seen their farmlands, livestock and infrastructure wash away, causing billions of dollars worth of havoc. In Bosnia alone, recovery efforts are estimated to cost upwards of $2 billion.
The Balkans have long had a fractious reputation, with Serbs, Bosnians and Croats still treating wounds from the wars that ripped the region apart in the 1990s. But from rescue missions to social media, nationalist tensions and divisions have been set aside in the face of shared chaos.
“What I’d really like to highlight is how the people of the region have been good neighbors to each other. That is one of the great mercies coming out of this terrible disaster,” said Muhamed Sacirbey, who became Bosnia’s first ambassador to the United Nations in 1992 during the Bosnian War. “It’s more than a silver lining -- I’m of a generation of people who are remembered for the war. Hopefully the people here will be for a disaster in which they helped each other.”
To watch whole conversation featuring Majstorovic, along with Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey, former Foreign Minister to the United Nations for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Marko Pavlovic, business correspondent for Al Jazeera Balkans, and Mihailo Makanjic, a director of the Serbs for Serbs charity, watch below: