By Bogdan Cristel
TUDOR VLADIMIRESCU, Romania, July 15 (Reuters) - The death toll this month in Romania's worst floods for 50 years reached 21 on Friday, with thousands left homeless, as villagers in the worst-hit east waged a frantic battle to salvage livelihoods.
Torrential rains have swept the Balkan state, swelling rivers, flooding homes and churning up roads, hitting the eastern part of the country in the past week particularly hard.
"Our first priority at this moment is to save human lives," said President Traian Basescu, who went to the northeastern county of Buzau to asses the situation.
Deputy Interior Minister Victor Dobre, speaking after a government crisis meeting in Bucharest, put the death toll in the past week at 15, making the toll this month 21.
Authorities said 12,166 people were evacuated, over 13,800 houses were flooded and 368 completely destroyed by water, which swamped over 88,000 hectares (217,400 acres) of farmland.
Villagers in Tudor Vladimirescu, 300 km (185 miles) northeast of Bucharest, battled frantically against the floodwaters, but about one third of around 1,000 homes were almost totally submerged.
They worked to build dams to contain the waters of the river Siret, which has risen to historic highs.
"We hope to keep the water away, on the farmland, to prevent it from destroying the village," Constantin Trifan, deputy mayor of Tudor Vladimirescu, told Reuters while working to build a dam made of dirt and stones.
Television footage showed hundreds of virtually submerged homes, dead animals floating on the water and people stranded on rooftops being rescued by army helicopters and boats.
Officials said a first estimate showed the floods, which hit 31 out of Romania's 42 counties, were worse than those in the west of the country in April and May which had caused nearly $600 million worth of damage and were the worst in 50 years.
"The situation is much more serious, we have four times more people evacuated, more deaths and more houses destroyed," Dobre said.
The government earmarked around one billion new lei ($344 million) to rebuild the infrastructure in the affected areas, with authorities estimating around 500 km (310 miles) of roads were affected by the floods.
Officials said Romania will ask for international help to clean up the damage.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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