Floods in Romania - A Farewell to Rast

Published: 25 April 2006 0:00 CET

Yrsa Grüne

“We do not know how the dike broke. One morning the water was in our garden. It continued to rise, so we left on Sunday. On Monday the water had already reached the rooftop.” Ioana Buduvici wipes the tears from her eyes. She was born in the village of Rast, on the Danube in the Romanian county of Dolj, 52 years ago. “There has never been anything like this in our village before,” she says.

Temporarily relocated because of the flooding, Ioana, her daughter Anca and her grandson Silvicu, 3 years, are staying in the gym of a school several kilometres from Rast. “We do not know how long we will have to stay. Luckily we were able to save most of our belongings from the water. We have been going back and forth between the temporary shelter and our village. That is why we know that our house is totally flooded,” explains Anca.

An older man approaches and urges us to go and look for ourselves. “Everything is gone,” he says.

As we continue our journey, tents and temporary shelters begin to appear here and there along the roadside. When we are just some three kilometres from Rast, a tent camp becomes visible on the left.

Maria Vintila, the Director of the Dolj Branch of the Romanian Red Cross, tells us that the people from Rast who have been evacuated here – 1,400 people, according to the local authorities, out of a population of 4,000 – chose the place themselves, because the land is farmland owned by the villagers. She explains: “They put the cattle on one side of the road and made shelters of whatever they had – rugs, plastic sheeting, blankets – on the other side.”

The Romanian Red Cross released 50 family tents from its warehouse and the army has provided 20 tents which accommodate three to four families each. No-one knows how long the villagers will have to call this agricultural land home, because there are serious doubts about the chances of ever returning to Rast again. Decisions about where the inhabitants of the village should be relocated have not yet been made. The flooding is particularly devastating in this badly hit area of Romania and the human suffering is huge.

Through the water
As we approach Rast, the road disappears under water and we cannot go further by car. We start to realize the seriousness of the situation. Fortunately, friendly villagers who are about to cross the flooded road with their tractor and a van offer to take us in their convoy. They are going back to the village to see if anything more can be rescued from their houses and to evacuate more people.

One of the Romanian Red Cross volunteers discovers that her cousin is among the people going back. The volunteer comforts her as she cries.

Slowly the big wheels make their way along the flooded road. Yellow flags on sticks along the roadside mark the way - without them the journey would not be possible. The first of Rast we see is the flooded cemetery to the left. The looks on the faces around us are grim and nobody is talking.

Finally the convoy emerges from the water. Some people have gathered at a crossing and we stop as they climb up on the army truck and the tractors. We start moving again, and after only a few meters the road disappears under water again.

A man picks up his handkerchief and wipes his eyes. “That is his house,” someone says and points at the house to our right. The man is sobbing silently, and cannot bear to look at the devastation for more than a few seconds at a time. Three men in a boat are approaching. On board are a television set, some furniture and other belongings which they are transporting away from their house along what was once one of the roads in the village, but is now a small river. Flowers of many colours are still blossoming in many of the gardens.

We reach the site where the church and the mayor’s house and a few more houses are still standing on land, like on a small island. Here there are more trucks because we have reached Rast on the day when the last inhabitants have been told to leave by 20h00.

Fetching the parents
Looking past the mayor’s house, the road continues for some tens of meters, then disappears in the water again, just before the school building, and becomes visible again further on. “I am waiting for transportation to the other side. I have to fetch my parents,” a young man says. He does not have to wait for long. An army truck approaches and stops when he waves. Soon the truck starts rolling across the water in the direction of the other visible side where the young man’s parents are stranded.

The sun is breaking through the grey skies. It is like a farewell to what was once the village of Rast. The water continues to rise and not a single building is expected to resist the devastating power of the flood waters, which are eroding the foundations. One by one, the buildings are collapsing.

In the camp a few kilometres away, George Vladoi, born in Rast and the village priest for 25 years, is preparing for Easter Mass. “I cried yesterday when we were celebrating mass in the camps’ tent church,” he says. “On the holy cloth, a part of the celebration, there are usually so many flowers that I am afraid to drop it because it is usually so heavy. Yesterday, there were no flowers at all,” he remarks.