by Uros Smiljanic in Belgrade
In the last ten days, temperatures in Serbia have dipped to values far below average for this time of the year. The highlands municipality of Sjenica is the coldest spot in Europe at the moment, with the temperature dropping to -30 degrees. The situation is complicated by heavy snowfall that has cut off remote villages in 16 municipalities, all declaring state of emergency. An estimated 11,500 people are reported to be isolated.
Six people have died because of gales and cold weather, while one is still missing. The biggest need in these hard-to-reach areas is providing medical services to older households.
The municipality of Brus, near mountain Kopaonik is the biggest winter tourism destination in Serbia. Its branch of the Red Cross of Serbia has an active mountain and water rescue service, with trained volunteers, and equipment provided in partnership with the Norwegian Red Cross.
On 2 February, the Red Cross was part of a rescue effort to save the life of 82-year-old Svetolik Simić. Living in the Graševci village, Mr. Simić is a known to have serious heart conditions. Yesterday morning he contacted the Emergency Headquarters asking for assistance as he was experiencing chest pain and difficulties with breathing but, due to the heavy snow, was unable to see the doctor or to be visited by medical emergency services.
The Red Cross of Brus, in coordination with the Municipal Emergency Headquarters, Emergency Department of the the Ministry of Interior, local firefighters squad and medical emergency services, travelled over 15km of roads and snow-covered mountainous paths to reach him. Bojan Živančević, Red Cross mountain and water rescue volunteer, and President of the Red Cross of Brus, branch drove the snowmobile and reached Mr. Simić, who was having trouble breathing.
Mr. Živančević and a member of the firefighters squad transported Mr. Simić safely to the 4X4 vehicle and then took him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with pulmonary edema. The doctors said that his condition was serious, even life-threatening and that the rescue crew managed to get to him just in time.
The Red Cross of Brus has five Mountain and Water Rescue volunteers available around the clock. They have all been trained and are equipped to meet a variety of challenges during winter and summer. Apart from emergency rescue efforts, their regular duties include visiting vulnerable people in remote areas, and providing support and referral to appropriate services.
The Red Cross of Serbia, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crenscent Societies is following the situation in the those locations where the state of emergency has been declared and has so far identified 650 families in need of assistance. The effort is underway to reach these families with canned food, warm winter clothes, boots, gloves, blankets, candles and family hygiene parcels.