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Flash floods and storms in northern Romania have killed five people and forced 15,000 people to flee their homes. The floods have hit 20,000 hectares of farmland and destroyed thousands of houses and small bridges.

Luckily, at least on one level -- the public-relations level -- the authorities weren't caught wrong footed this year. Since it's election year, a flurry of dignitaries, led by President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu, swiftly put on their rubber boots, parkas, and designer knitted caps that had been sitting in their wardrobes since last year's floods (or those of two years ago, or three or five years ago), and rushed by helicopter to the worst-affected areas. Such was the unity shown by the political elite in its reaction to the red alert (and the dress code), that the president poured scorn on a hapless local official who had shown up in the disaster area dressed in a suit of all things: "When I see you dressed in a suit and tie, I feel like throwing you to the ground." Or, rather into the mud.

It didn't take long for the blame game to start. The first culprit was Romania's neighbor, Ukraine. Never mind that, also flood stricken, they had to deal with many more casualties and a bigger disaster -- but according to politicians, they had failed to warn the Romanians that it had started raining heavily.

The other culprits were, of course, the media. Initially happy to see that journalists and cameramen were already there to acknowledge his arrival, President Basescu suddenly became irritated when a journalist criticized the way officials dealt with the crisis. "You are mocking the situation," the journalist was told. Actually, the journalist got off lightly. Last year, the head of state called one female journalist a "stinking gypsy."

That Romania has been hit with regularity by catastrophic floods either in spring, summer, or fall for the past few years, and each time the authorities respond with the same perfect lack of preparation, seemed to pass the political establishment by.

And that ferocious deforestation over the last two decades has turned mountain slopes into river beds or cascades was another small detail that went unnoticed this year. Or, last year, for that matter. Or, 10 years ago. After all, some of those who are said to have profited most from selling the timber are respectable members of parliament or allies of the ruling party.

During communism, there was a saying that Poles and Hungarians are good at revolutions, while Romanians are good at jokes and proverbs. One such proverb defines carelessness like this, "While the land is burning, the old woman is combing her hair." Since the forests are not there to burn anymore, it's high time Romanians came up with a proverb about floods, too.

-- Eugen Tomiuc

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