* Army on standby, weekend settlements evacuated
* Flooding caused havoc in Central Europe
* Severe flooding could hurt agricultural heartland
By Valerie Hopkins
BEZDAN, Serbia, June 13 Water levels in the
Serbian stretch of the Danube river neared a 50-year high on
Thursday as the Balkan country braced for a wave of floods that
have already ravaged parts of central Europe.
Authorities stressed they did not expect the kind of damage
seen in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic
and Hungary, where at least a dozen people died and tens of
thousands fled their homes.
The army was placed on standby and dozens of people were
evacuated from mainly weekend settlements on the banks of the
Danube in Serbia's northern Vojvodina province, bordering
Hungary and Croatia.
Croatia, too, said it was taking "preventive measures" to
cope with the impact of the swell.
"Dikes have been checked, all teams are at potential
hotspots, movable barriers and pumps are in place," Predrag
Maric, the head of the Serbian Interior Ministry's emergencies
department, told Reuters.
"It will be tense until Saturday," he said.
In the northern region of Bezdan, the Danube reached 752
centimetres (25 feet), just below its 1965 high of 776
Bane Bozanic, an engineer with the state
hydro-meteorological institute at the scene, said Yugoslav-era
dikes had been doubled in height and reinforced in the 1950s.
"They built them five decades ago and they're still holding
all this water," he said. "It (the river) peaked this morning
and this is the highest it will go."
Severe flooding would hit the fragile Serbian economy, which
is heavily dependent on agriculture mainly in the northern
plains of Vojvodina.
But with the swell losing steam, Serbia on Wednesday turned
down an offer of 1,000 troops from northern neighbour Hungary to
help in the flood effort.
Maric said the Serbian military was ready to act.
"It's our assessment that we don't need them right now, but
they have machinery and teams at the ready," he said.
(Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade and
Zoran Radosavljevic in Zagreb; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing
by Andrew Heavens)