And then the Creek Swallowed the City
On that disastrous May 15, in the pretty town in the Morava River basin, it was a quiet rainy day, until the little Crnica, in only a few hours, turned into big mean water. It crushed everything on its way, carried tree trunks that were hitting the bridges. Everything was bursting and the noise was heard far. Soon it flooded, and districts, cars, houses – more than a half of the city – disappeared in it. The electricity supply was interrupted, telephone networks were down, all kinds of traffic were disabled. And then everything was covered by the night, heavy as lead

By: Slađana Ristić
Photographs: Bojan Petrović

In the night of May 15, the pretty town in the Morava River basin, on the Crnica Rivulet, resembled a ghost and a black hole. It turned into a black lake. There,150 kilometers south from Belgrade, a dramatic battle was going on against the enraged little rivulet that flooded suddenly and swallowed everything in its way. Washing away houses, cars, animals. People were startled too, running all over, shouts and cries for help were heard.
The Quay of Paraćin on the Crnica is a well-known promenade. With little bridges, it resembled an elegant spa resort. And on that disastrous May 15, everything was peaceful, until, in only a few hours, the Crnica turned into big mean water.
From the village of Gornja Mutnica, fifteen kilometers upstream from Paraćin, water was rushing in toward ”Dorotej” Motel. Only a few kilometers before the city, in the village of Glavica, an old mill was flooded, which indicated that big flood was ahead. In the lower city park it was already a torrent. It rolled everything in its way, carried tree trunks that were hitting the bridges. Everything was bursting and the noise was heard far. And it was only the introduction into the water hell, which was to be opened at noon.
Sirens are echoing through the city. The enraged river, unstoppable torrent, is flooding the entire city center, widens toward the old part of the town, enters houses and shops. The battle between the people and the elements begin. In the central part of Paraćin the river rose a meter and a half. It is flooding the technical school, entering city theatre, ”Electric Power Distribution”, covering the entire quay. It is raging over the Teokarović villas and reaches ”Tekstilac” football field where it is hitting laterally and breaking the huge stone wall. There was a bang like an explosion.
At the same time, from the complex of the former furniture factory, the water is breaking through and flooding all households in Kajmakčalanska Street. People from that part of the city are running away in panic to higher floors of the building, the water flows at great speed into their homes. There it also rises a meter and a half. A grandmother, who was rescuing her kittens and remained trapped in the water up to her shoulders, was moved by her neighbors to the first floor in the last minute. And she had already given up. Many suburban estate houses, with pigs and sheep and laying hens, were destroyed and killed. Drowned sheep were carried by the tide all the way to the Technical School.
The entire Vidovdanska Street was also flooded. It was difficult to reach people.
A part of the city called Vrapčane simply disappeared under water. People were climbing on the attics, called for help. Washed away pigs were twitching in death rattle. Dogs that nobody had time to unchain were trying to break away and save themselves.
A state of emergency was declared.
At 16:00 it was not possible to cross any of the bridges.
The city center disappeared, suburban areas were flooded. More than a half of the city. Some people, in panic, tried to go through the tide.
But until the following morning it was not possible to go anywhere. Those who found themselves on one side of the river could not cross to the other side. Telephone lines were disconnected, the entire city was without electricity, and the mobile telephony networks were down. Even the official transmitters did not function. The only communication between the rescue services was taking place through radio amateurs. Together with army, police and fire brigades, the citizens also joined the rescue mission with their boats se.
There is no drinking water, no bread. Dark night is falling over the black lake that was once beautiful Paraćin.
Dead silence remains, heavy as lead.
It seems that the city disappeared. That it is the end. Great flood.
Great chill spread. An ominous noise was coming from the flood.


Those who were coming from Niš and Belgrade to help were entering the unknown. It was not possible to pass through the city center either toward Dankovo or toward Vrapčan. Cars were completely under water. Evacuation began. Any movement from the flooded part of the town was forbidden. The devil (insidious Crnica) is not joking.
Some owners of flooded shops were standing at the beginning of Vožda Karađorđa Street. Startled, realizing what they were dealing with, some of them were whispering prayers. Tractor drivers, fearless just like old-time knights, went to help those who remained on the streets. At dawn, the riskiest was in Vidovdanska Street. One girl managed to climb to the top of the railing and call for help. Radio amateurs of Paraćin come again to the black stage. Fearless Vlada Ilić and his fraternity. With their boats, they go to the parts that were hit the worst.
The army is also evacuating the most vulnerable. Shelters are established in Sports centre and kindergartens ”Kolibri” and ”Guliver”. In Vrapčane, the water is higher than a meter and a half. Miroslav Stefanović with his neighbors is digging a trench to divert the water, it is still flooding all the streets. Miroslav is jumping into the water and rescuing a neighbor and her granddaughter. Then he evacuates his wife and four kids, the youngest of who is eleven months old, to the attic. They only have a bottle of water and a loaf of bread. (Rescue boat will come after seventeen hours of waiting.) Peoples’ cries can still be heard. A pig is surfacing into someone’s firewood shed, crying. People are using plastic buckets and wooden boards to make a raft, and go to help like that. A Roma woman, Milanka, was evacuated that night with her five children. Sick and hardly able to move, she jumps from the boat and swims to her dogs to save them too.


That morning in Paraćin was calm and humid. People are having hard time getting out of this nightmare. Water calmed down a little, withdrew by an inch. In the central part it is now knee-deep, in the area around textile factory up to one meter. Vrapčane became a little Black Venice on which boatmen from Paraćin are sailing, rowing with shovels. They are carrying food to trapped neighbors. One of the boatmen, Gumeni, boldly and continuously, alone, is entering the most dangerous streets.
During that time, his neighbors are on the embankment toward the railway station. They defended Vrapčane. Snakes are twirling down the Crnica River, there is more and more of them around the quay. One of them strayed into the Emergency Room. It becomes dangerous even for those who were not flooded.
Volunteers are trying to pump out the water from flooded houses. Sixteen-year old Dušan Zdravković and his friend Nenad were stepping through the water, taking out grandmothers and grandfathers, and transported them into the shelter. Volunteers-high school students were fearless.
Actors of the Paraćin theatre are trying to dry the flooded stage for three days in a row. Everything is destroyed up to the seventh row. It was the most difficult and maybe the most important role in their lives: fighting to save the Paraćin stage.
Students and professors are trying to revive their school. The school and the classrooms no longer have doors, the violent tide broke off all the doors from their frames. We are making our way through the streets: Some people are crying. Because they were happy to be alive, sad for losing everything they had had. Their childhood, youth, their precious tea cup.
And the sorrow that engulfed the city has the color of the enraged Crnica.
The city smells like Venetian channels and attics under the Rialto Bridge.
Special units were taking out water with big pumps sent from Sofia. People are looking at their lives that are now as if on the landfill. After that tragic night, a dog showed up in front of the municipality. He sat next to the water cistern and watched people quietly. He didn’t move. He was waiting for his owner.


According to legend, the Turks killed Serbs near the Church of St. Mary in the village of Zabrega and the blood of the martyrs drained into the Belica Creek. This is how Belica (White) became Crnica (Black).
It was usually flowing quietly from its spring Sisevac, through time and space. Sometimes it would get agitated and spill over, but it would soon return into its bed.
Why did the Crnica take out its rage now? And who was the target? It has possibly sent the message to the people of Paraćin to think well about everything, even about selfishness, carelessness and vanity with which contemporary people treat everything around them?


Grza and Morava
On that tragic Thursday, the Grza is destroying the road in the excursion site in Paraćin with the same name, reshaping the micro-landscape, penetrates summer houses. The Big Morava is flooding villages of Obrež, and the village of Čepure is also endangered. The mission of rescuing villagers begins. Paraćin fears that the Big Morava will take out its rage on the suburban settlements as well.


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