Serbia: Volunteers make homes habitable after Kraljevo quake

By Giovanni Zambello

Your first impression when you drive through the streets of Kraljevo in central Serbia is that "nothing happened here". You might see some strips of yellow insulating tape here and there, some thin cracks on the walls if you look a bit more carefully, but they're all things that the casual observer might miss.

"This is a sneaky disaster. If you just look at the buildings from the outside, it seems like the earthquake has had very little or no impact on the city and the surrounding villages," says Nebojša Medojević, the IFRC's disaster coordinator. "As soon as you step inside, you can see the extent of the damage."

During the night of 2 November 2010, an earthquake measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale struck the city of Kraljevo. It affected one in four households and seriously damaged 16,200 houses and buildings, hundreds of which are irreparable and need demolishing.

Families who lost their homes completely were given funds by the Serbian government allocated to support the reconstruction process. They were able to move into new houses, often built alongside the old ones. But many others need support to mend the cracks in the walls and make their homes safe and habitable again.

"With the funds raised through our emergency appeal, we wanted to fill the gap for people who were not entitled to emergency aid from the government," continues Nebojsa. "The 2,000 wall repair kits that the Red Cross of Serbia is now distributing among affected households in the municipality of Kraljevo, and the technical assistance provided by the Red Cross volunteers on how to do the renovation work, may help fill that gap."

Spraying polyurethane foam into the cracks and applying mortar and wall paint mean the people whose houses were hit by the earthquake can regain possession of their houses.

"The only important thing is that we're still alive. Everything else can be provided," says Stojana Gvozdenović, a 73-year-old from the village of Sirca, near Kraljevo, where the earthquake caused the most damage. Her house was so heavily hit by the earthquake that the government declared it unsafe and built a new one for her and her daughter.

"The Red Cross was among the first organizations to visit us, in spite of our house being almost inaccessible. It was very encouraging to see how many volunteers came to assist us during the whole recovery phase."

The municipality of Aleksinac, in south-eastern Serbia, was devastated by the worst floods in 30 years in February and April 2010. So, along with the wall repair kits, the Red Cross of Serbia is also operating mobile technical teams as part of its shelter activities to assist people in the area.

Composed of ready-to-deploy trained volunteers from all over Serbia, these teams offer technical advice and help in pumping water out of flooded basements, disinfecting, drying and repainting saturated walls.

"We had just finished renovating our house when the floods came last year," says Zoran Mihaylovic, 55, who lives with his family in the countryside near the small village of Vitkovac, one of the most affected by the flooding of the South Morava river.

"Since we built it, it's been flooded nine times; and the older one, where I was born and raised, has been flooded at least 20 times in the past 60 years. Generation after generation of my family has lived through floods."

"But despite all the hard times, I am still positive about the future. We want to thank everyone from the Red Cross who has been close to us during these tough months and helped us get back on our feet again."

More information on "Housing Forum, Europe and Central Asia".