Novi Sad now takes to boats

Bombing: Thousands reroute lives after NATO destroyed the bridges to Yugoslavia's No. 2 city.

War In Yugoslavia

May 01, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SREMSKA KAMENICA, Yugoslavia -- From his hospital office, Dr. Josip Cikos used to have one of the prettiest views in town. Now, he has one of the grimmest.

The three gleaming bridges that connected this suburban town to Novi Sad across the Danube River are now nothing but twisted wreckage and a memory.

The oil refinery that once pumped 60,000 barrels a day was ablaze yesterday, two giant fireballs disappearing into a cloud of thick, black smoke that draped the sky like a thick curtain.

But for Cikos, the only thing worse than the view is this: He now runs a hospital without running water. "It is awful," he said. "We are improvising."

Tens of thousands of people here are rerouting their lives because of NATO's bombing campaign, which has delivered punishing blows to Novi Sad, Yugoslavia's second largest city with a population of 400,000.

Bridges have been destroyed, the water supply cut and factories wrecked in this city 50 miles northwest of Belgrade. Television and radio transmission towers have been bombed. And Novi Sad's main municipal building, a graceful, white marble modernist structure built in the 1930s, has been damaged.

Yet the greatest inconvenience involves the flow of human traffic. Where once thousands crossed the river over the three bridges, they now cross by huge barges or by aging tourist cruisers or rickety skiffs that ply one of Europe's most famous waterways.

Waits of three to six hours along the muddy riverbanks are not uncommon. Air raid alerts bring river traffic to a halt.

But at the Institute for Cardiovascular Diseases which Cikos has run for 19 years, the work continues despite the air raids.

"When someone is in grave danger in Novi Sad, we have to transport people by boat," Cikos said. "We cannot use helicopters, you know."

A dash with supplies

After the North Atlantic Treaty Organization took out the first two bridges in the first week of April, Cikos and his staff worked feverishly, transporting equipment over a third railroad bridge, to make sure that Novi Sad had coronary, cardiology and pulmonary facilities.

"We ran over the third bridge as quick as we could," he said. "We transported our equipment from one side to the other."

When that bridge was blown up, the last over-water connection to serve the area's southern side was lost.

At Cikos' hospital, drinkable water is brought in by trucks. Doctors use buckets of water to wash their hands before operations. And the staff washes its uniforms at home.

Medical supplies are also running low. "We have two or three weeks worth of supplies, if there is no massive attack on our people," he said.

Yet even with the deprivations caused by the war, the hospital has been able to expand its services to include a maternity unit.

Saveta Katic, a 26-year-old lawyer, lay on a gurney yesterday enduring the final stages of delivery. Nearby, the hospital's chief anesthesiologist looked on in anger because an air raid alert sounded while the delivery was in progress.

"To work in such conditions, we could never imagine," said Dr. Branko Malesev. "It is unbelievable."

Katic gave birth to a boy she named Teodor. His was the hospital's 27th birth since the war began March 24.

And it most likely won't be the last.

On the water

With the bridges destroyed, people here are grimly resigned to months if not years of inconvenience.

A trip across the river in a 20-foot skiff is a sobering experience. An old man gently handles an outboard motor through the river's currents, passing beneath one of the damaged sections of the Freedom Bridge, which appears like a shipwreck. Two massive chunks of asphalt lie broken at sharp angles. A light pole sticks up from the water. On one side, a black van with a smashed front end clings to the bridge.

At the damaged municipal building, Executive Council Vice President Damjan Radeknovic held court with journalists escorted to the city by an official from the Yugoslav military press office.

He read off a list of damaged sites, including nine major factories. He talked of the health hazards posed by burning oil and the polluted Danube, where fishing is now banned. And he claimed the Vojvodina region, anchored by Novi Sad, sustained about $3.78 billion in damage.

"There is no war that is good," he said. "This is a completely bad war."

Meanwhile, on the riverbanks, people waited for boats as an air raid alert halted traffic.

Some simply gave into the warm day, and sat in an outdoor cafe at a rowing club that has been turned into the main transportation terminal.

"If you tell me when the bombing will stop, I will tell you how we will recover," said Milan Pavkov, a 62-year-old economist.

Finally, the raid alert ended and more than 30 people piled on to an old wooden cruiser for the journey from Novi Sad to the southern towns.

`I would leave'

"If I had a choice, I would leave tomorrow," said Zorka Gemovic, a 40 year old who was traveling with her two daughters, Tamara, 12, and Biljana, 7.

Two workers, Branko Rnic and Dobrisav Radojicic, looked longingly at the shattered Freedom Bridge. Unlike the others on the boat, they had vested interests in the once-elegant suspension bridge that was completed in 1981.

They helped to build it.

Rnic, a metal worker, said when he first saw the wrecked bridge, "My heart and soul were crying."

"What can we think?" Radojicic said.

"There is nothing to think. It is sad and a pity."

Pub Date: 5/01/99

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