Flash floods in Bulgaria have killed at least 14 people, including two children, with others missing after torrential rains lashed the east of the country, authorities said Friday.
The worst hit was the Asparuhovo neighbourhood of the Black Sea port city of Varna, where at least 11 people including two children perished, local authorities said.
A seven-year-old child, who said he was with his sister and grandmother when the disaster hit, was rescued and taken to hospital.
Three more victims drowned in the nearby northeastern town of Dobrich and 150 people were evacuated from the lowest part of the town where the water level remained waist-high on Friday evening, an AFP photographer said.
A total of 1,200 tourists, including Germans, Russians and Britons, were evacuated — some via helicopters — from the nearby resort of Albena, resort chief Krasimir Stanev said.
Many Ukrainian children meanwhile remained blocked in their hotel in the village of Kranevo.
Dozens of smashed and piled up cars and uprooted trees littered the narrow mud-splattered streets of the worst-hit Varna neighbourhood of Asparuhovo on Friday, leaving parts of the area still impassable.
The normally picturesque hillside quarter was submerged after torrential rain pounded the region on Thursday evening, clogging garbage-filled drainage canals and turning the steep streets into raging torrents.
Many rickety houses were totally destroyed by the water and authorities were unable to say whether their owners had survived even if they found no new victims buried under the ruins.
Electricity was partially restored on Friday except in the worst-affected parts where authorities refrained from switching it on due to safety concerns. Also, bad tap water quality made it unsafe for drinking.
Navy divers continued to search a canal linking Lake Varna to the Black Sea, where all the floodwater drained away, dragging with it cars, furniture, garbage and uprooted trees. Two bodies were recovered from the waters.
Soldiers and 40 prisoners helped to evacuate people throughout the day and clean up the piles of mud and garbage from the streets of Asparuhovo.
Shocked residents of the neighbourhood, home to some 25,000 people, likened the disaster to the set of a horror movie.
“Thank God I managed to run away, otherwise I would have drowned,” said 38-year-old resident Branimir. “Everyone panicked and started to run.”
The man said his next-door neighbours were still missing after their house was swept away by the flood.
He said neither he nor his grandfather had ever “seen anything like this before. Everyone is shaking for fear that a new shock wave might come.”
“We had to climb on the garage roof to save ourselves,” a woman in her 50s said.
“My house is beyond repair, buried under half a metre of mud,” Stefan Hristov, 25, told AFP. He along with his small child and pregnant wife managed to save themselves by escaping through the roof.
People put the blame on nature, but also human negligence in the European Union’s poorest country.
Varna municipal council member Kostadin Kostadinov told public BNR radio that massive logging of the beech forests overlooking the neighbourhood, illegal construction and poor maintenance of drains contributed to the tragedy.
“All this was happening before our eyes. The Roma horse-drawn carriages loaded with cut timber from the woods passed right in front of the police station. Illegal houses sprung up like mushrooms. This is a small neighbourhood, nothing can go unnoticed,” Kostadinov said.
There was no immediate information on the estimated cost of the damage.
The government considered financial aid for relatives of the victims and the worst-hit families and volunteers organised a campaign to collect donations of bottled water, foodstuffs and clothes.
Almost 150,000 euros were also collected within just hours in a special donors message service campaign.
Bulgaria’s European Emergency Response Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva was expected to visit the area on Saturday.
Rescue efforts have been hindered as heavy rains and hail storms continued to lash Bulgaria throughout Friday and more floods, even if not as bad, were reported in eastern and central Bulgaria.
Along with Varna and Dobrich, the central city of Veliko Turnovo also declared a state of emergency on Friday.
Forecasters said the situation was set to improve in the coming days, even if they did not exclude more rain.
Varna declared a day of mourning on Friday and Bulgaria was to observe a nationwide day of mourning on Monday.