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Serbia Declares Emergency As Heavy Rains Threaten Flooding

The Serbian government has declared a state of emergency amid fears that heavy rains will cause widespread flooding and force thousands to leave their homes.

Authorities evacuated some 120 people in southwestern Serbia earlier this week after rivers overflowed, flooding hundreds of homes and farms.

The government said on March 10 the state of emergency was "a preemptive measure to ease and speed up actions of all state bodies" to protect human lives and property.

In 2014 the heaviest rainfall in more than a century caused floods that swept away roads, bridges, and homes. More than 50 people died and damage was estimated at 1.5 billion euros ($1.67 billion).

Critics said the damage then would not have been so great if Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and state-owned utilities had reacted in a timely manner to meteorologists' warnings of heavy rain.

"This time we are declaring a state of emergency preventatively," Serbia's interior minister, Nebojsa Stefanovic, told B92 TV.

He said the army and police will be deployed to help strengthen dams with sandbags and evacuate people if needed.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP