Serbia shivers under snow while volunteers take to the air for a dramatic rescue

Published: 3 February 2014 18:05 CET

Evacuations by helicopter, nights in schools halls, digging out cars and providing bread and food by snowmobile: winter paid a violent visit to Vojvodina and other areas of Serbia prompting the State Emergency service, the military and the Red Cross into action.

60 staff and volunteers from the Serbian Red Cross were in full swing over the weekend assisting with evacuation and providing for people stranded in cars, homes and schools.

The disaster manager of Serbian Red Cross, Ranko Demirovic – who was in the field – facilitated one of the more dramatic rescues.

He said: “We were with a group of people who were stuck at a gas station, when one father came running to me with his four-year-old son, who was diabetic and needed medical assistance. I ran through the snow towards the nearest helicopter 100 meters away turning around so that the pilot could see my Red Cross emblem on the back. He waited for me and we told him about the child who needed to go to hospital. The pilot then asked us to bring the child and the family, so I ran back and fetched them all, carrying the four-year-old child in a blanket. He was very trustful, despite the wind and the rush, and the entire family got on the helicopter.”

As so often it is not only the amount of snow that causes havoc but the ferocious winds of 120-150 kilometers per hours making the snow drift, blocking roads within minutes and paralyzing traffic. Hundreds of cars are stuck along the international highway E -75 as well as many other local country roads.

The Serbian Red Cross actions varied from urgent distributions of food and non-food items to around 700 people in snow blocked car lines, to the reception of 220 evacuated people in the Backa Topola and Mali Idjos Red Cross offices over the weekend, providing drinks and hot meals.

Demirovic said the organization is well-prepared for extreme winter conditions. “We have five regional teams which can provide rescue and evacuation during extreme winter conditions. They are equipped with snowmobiles, trailers and more, and other trained staff and volunteers support them when they are deployed. This weekend the team from Belgrade also joined the operation, and it was a great help,” he said. “One of the volunteers is normally working at the Belgrade airport and he know the ‘air traffic language’ and could signal to the military helicopters where to land to evacuate people.”.

Weather conditions have now normalized and many of those spending the night in evacuation centers are on their way home. And the boy with diabetes is fine.