Rainfall that usually takes three months dumped in just three days over the Balkan Peninsula this month. The result is devastating floods and thousands of landslides. To make everything just that much worse, the floods are also exposing landmines and washing away warning signs.
Turkeys in landslide debris in Topcic Polje, Bosnia. Photography credit: AP Photo/Sulejman Omerbasic
Extra-tropical cyclone Tamara pulled in moisture from the Mediterranean Sea, dumping it as heavy rains flooding the Balkin peninsula. These floods are the worst in the region for generations — Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia are all impacted with the worst floods in 120 years of record-keeping.
The Sava River overflowing its banks in Brcko, Bosnia.Image credit: AP Photo/Bosnia Army
NASA's Aqua satellite with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) is perfect rapidly photographing these events. The Earth Observatory is hosting an image pair from May a year apart to compare the floodwaters to May-normal. In the false-colour image, using visible and near-infrared light channels mapped to blue-green-red.
In it, vegetation is green, low clouds are white, high ice clouds and snow are cyan, and bare ground is brown. The flood waters stand out as stark black. The Sava River cutting through the peninsula has overrun its banks, swelling from the heavy rain.
Bosnian soldiers check for displaced landmines, and replace warning signs. Photography credit: AP Photo/Sulejman Omerbasic
At least 100,000 structures have been destroyed, thousands of livestock animals have died, and the latest news reports 44 people died. A flood by itself is troubling enough, but floods always bring with it accessory disasters. Water is contaminated, landslides are more likely, and in a particularly local twist, landmines are more of a threat in the aftermath of disaster. Landmines left over from extensive warfare in 1992-95 were uncovered, moved, or had marker signs washed away in the flood. Read first-person stories in the discussion section about how and why that is every bit as terrifying as it sounds, and then some.
Relief efforts are complicated by a lack of easy, central donation point, and with local aid efforts being challenging for foreign media to decipher. The Republika of Srpska in northern Bosnia is the hardest-hit region, and aid is lagging far behind need. The best link I've gotten is a paypal account set up directly by the Serbian government; please do leave comments if you see other legitimate, verified methods for collecting aid donations. (Update: here and here)