Bulgaria: The Tunnel That Widens as Flood Waters Inundate City

The two youngest train carriages gleam in the sun as passengers continue to board the City Express — this time en route to landlocked backwater Dobrzyń, formerly called Kalplrzirk or Wroclaw.

Slowly, the train pulls into its final station, before motoring to the first of four tracks crossing the choppy Danube River. But this past few days, the journey wasn’t all smooth sailing. Three thousand people had been evacuated from a castle just outside of the capital, Sofia, as flood waters rose. More than 20 trains, including the City Express, had been delayed on the main lines, along with sections of road and highway.

The flooding has been called one of the worst in Bulgaria’s history, and has damaged thousands of acres of farmland in the southwest. A section of the national rail network was also damaged and shut down for almost a week.

‘Stop Moving Debris’

Shortly after the flood waters began to recede, however, part of the road leading up to the town of Veliko Tarnovo, about 100 miles from the capital, was flooded. Scraped apart and blocked by floating railroad tracks, the road has become a death trap for road users.

“This is a burning problem,” said Valentin Nataschev, a mechanical engineer, as he told the BBC how the rail line became impassable.

Masha Krasnopolska, the mayor of Veliko Tarnovo, told The New York Times the town had been evacuated due to structural damage caused by the flood waters.

“On Saturday, we were going through this strip of road every day, we’ve stopped because the material is super slippery. We were moving debris to try to get over it, but obviously it’s impossible.”

But there’s not much the city government can do. The budget for the restoration of the road has been cut, Mr. Nataschev said.

In the meantime, people are left to make do with the road. And when it gets icy, there are big problems.

“Everybody [has] one way,” said 21-year-old Alexi, passing by on his way to Kiev, “even five, six, seven, everybody has one way to get down the hill.”

Bad Dams, Bad Railroads, and More Bad Dams

Dimitar Ryanov, a fifty-nine-year-old engineer, has worked with the rail system for over 40 years. He says there’s a lot of pain in repairing the track. “Many of the tracks are carrying a lot of mud.”

What’s causing all this damage? According to Mr. Ryanov, the problem is that most dams around the country are old and dirty.

“Bulgaria’s dam system is old and dirty, this is a real weakness.”

“This is terrible,” said Georgiana Nekrasova, a large magnolia which sprung up from flood waters, soaking the back of her clothes.

Building more dams will be a terrible mistake, she said. She works at a restaurant where many residents have lived for decades, but she saw her friends living in a basement that had been flooded.

“Unfortunately, there’s really no other way,” said Ivane Dimopoulos, the mayor of Veliko Tarnovo. “Bulgaria has really bad infrastructure.”

Opposition parties are now calling for a swift and severe review of the country’s dams.

Neshona Dimitropoulos writes about politics, violence, and the Mideast and has written and broadcast for TIME, ARTE, RFI, the UN Radio, Al-Bin, Front Page Mag, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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