Rescue teams made up of troops and volunteers are working to strengthen the river banks with sandbags, amid fears that homes in the low-lying communities could be fully submerged. A 1960s-built dam has breached and efforts are being made to repair the damage before the situation becomes worse for the nine villages downstream.

The Danube, Europe’s second largest river, has been at its highest level for more than a century at the Balkans over the past month, and melting snow and heavy rains finally broke the resolve of anti-flood defences. Three tributaries of the Danube – the Iskar, Vit and Osam – burst their banks after the high level of the river caused it to flow backwards, according to authorities.

The city of Tutraken is under risk of further flooding, and the villages of Bistretand and Rast have been inundated with waters and have been evacuated. Residents are being forced to take shelter in public buildings such as schools, or in military tents. Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu has appealed to people from the endangered areas to help the rescue teams.

The 450km-long Danube runs across the border of Bulgaria and Romania. On Wednesday, it was flowing at 15,200m3/sec; nearly double the average rate of 7900m3/sec. The dikes were only designed to hold a reported14,000m3/sec.

Over 40,000ha of Romanian agriculture has been flooded, and structures such as bridges have been destroyed.