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Feet in the water

By Cpl. Nicolas Girault
First published in
SFOR Informer#117, July 11, 2001

From June 20 to 22, the Dutch from Novi Travnik intervened to assist the local population during spectacular flooding; it touched several communities in their area of responsibility.

Bila Valley - Some days before June 20, large warm air masses pushed by a violent wind stumbled against the hills overhanging Travnik. When it climbed the slopes and went higher, it formed clouds, which got colder and colder and caused violent storms and plenty of heavy rain.
These rains inflated torrents, which flow to the Bila River. That is why the water of the river suddenly lifted up and over ran its banks. June 20, the flooding became worrying and isolated several hamlets.

The same day, a valley inhabitant called the Dutch base of Novi Travnik by phone. Lt. Frocklage from the 13th Armoured Engineer Regiment explained that "this kind of operation is not part of our mission here, so we asked the Battle Group command in Bugojno if we should intervene."

The answer was: "you are allowed to do everything you can to help the population."
The Quick Reaction Force, infantry and cavalry units were sent in the night to assess the situation, the access ways and prioritise which places to intervene.

Engineer Hennie Van De Molengratt remembers that "we went with a ten ton truck, with a boat and sand bags. From the first night onwards, we intervened to evacuate three people, which were isolated by the floods."

The most important operation occurred near Matici village. The Dutch reinforced an electrical mast, which supplied several valleys' villages with electricity; the violent current submerged its feet, and its foundations were shaky.

Floods and mines
"In Vitez pockets mine fields were installed during the war, but most of them were registered," stated Sgt. Remco Van Dommelen. Lt. Frocklage declared that "hopefully floods did not pass over these areas." As explained by Sgt. Van Dommelen, "water and landslides can displace mines." The problem is that unknown mine fields can also be moved by the floods, "the danger is bigger now," he added. This problem concerns Travnik's area, but also Tuzla's one in MND N. In Doboj, rescue teams saw mines floating on the Bosna and Spreca rivers.
SFOR spokesperson, Cpt. John Ruth, recalled that "mines and unexploded ordnance's that were buried prior to the heavy rains and floods (…) are now possibly in places that are travelled on or played in by children."

So, the sappers built a dam on one side of the mast. They put rocks, Hescos" gabions, joined with logs and reinforced with sandbags in order to support the whole structure.

In Mehurici, a bridge was totally submerged by water. "According to me, it would have been the best to destroy it, but a mosque was located downstream at about fifty metres from the bridge," said Sgt. Remco Van Dommelen. So the bridge and several houses were damaged.

The third day, the Dutch provided material - mainly gabions - to the valley's inhabitants. The intervention then ended and the soldiers could go and dry their feet, and dream of the summer's sun in their beds.

Related linkd: Nations of SFOR: Netherland
Humanitarian Aid