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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK

World: Europe

Hungary fears floods from bombed bridges

Blocking the river: One of Novi Sad's destroyed bridges

Hungary has appealed to the European Union for money to help clear the Danube river of the remains of Serbia's bombed bridges.

Rebuilding the Balkans
It says the wreckage resulting from Nato's bombs could trap ice floes, and cause catastrophic flooding upstream.

"Once the river is obstructed the ice can back up more than 100km (62 miles) and the water will spill over the banks in Hungary, as well as in Serbia and Croatia," said Zoltan Illes, chairman of the Hungarian parliament's environment committee.

[ image: Symposium leader,  Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I, meets Austrian President, Thomas Klestil]
Symposium leader, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I, meets Austrian President, Thomas Klestil
He was participating in a symposium of scientific, political and religious leaders, including the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, which is travelling down the Danube from Germany to the Black Sea.

Nato bombing during the Kosovo campaign destroyed more than one bridge in the Serbian city of Novi Sad. The wreckage blocks the river, forcing the symposium participants to travel from there to the Romanian border by bus.

Mr Illes said that the Hungarian minister of transport and water management was asking the EU for urgent help. He said the approach of winter meant there were only six weeks left to take action.

Gyorgy Droppa, the manager of Hungary's largest green organisation, said an "ice cork" could develop at any of seven bombed bridges.

He said hundreds of thousands of homes were at risk from flooding, in the city of Bezdan in Croatia, and Mohacs and Baja in Hungary.

[ image: Balkan winters can be harsh]
Balkan winters can be harsh
Ice was the cause of serious flooding in 1956, he said.

He added that the Hungarian Government sometimes called in the army to blow up the ice when the ice breakers could not cope.

A Yugoslav environment ministry official said Belgrade was aware of the problem, but did not have the resources to resolve it.

According to some estimates the cost of replacing eight bombed bridges over the Danube river will be at least £80m - perhaps up to ten times more than the cost of destroying them.

The closure of the bridges is costing the Balkans around £600m a year - and Romania says it has lost at least £580m this year alone.

Earlier this week Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis urged greater efforts to clear the Danube of debris from Nato's air attacks.

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