Heavy rains sparked floods that killed 21 people in Romania and hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes yesterday as rivers burst their banks.

People climbed trees to escape being drowned while many houses, roads and railway lines have been destroyed or damaged by the floods, officials said.

Hundreds of police and emergency workers have been put into the rescue operation.

Several localities along the Danube took urgent measures to stop the "blue river" overflowing.

"The situation is tragic, the damage is of a scale hard to imagine," Gheorghe Flutur, president of Suceava department, one of the worst hit regions, told Mediafax news agency.

Twenty-one dead have been confirmed and at least one person was missing since the floods started last week, emergency inspectorate spokesman Alin Maghiar told AFP.

"Most of the people died after being carried away by high waters. One fell from his house and two others were killed by lightning," he added.

Most of the deaths occurred on Monday night in two departments close from the Ukrainian border.

In the northeastern town of Dorohoi, six people died in the night of Monday to yesterday, according to officials.

More than 1,700 people had to be evacuated and some scrambled up trees to get away from the rising waters, according to witnesses.

The water receded on Tuesday afternoon but houses were badly damaged by floods which rose above one metre in some places. Roads into Dorohoi remained under water.

Heavy rain has been falling for much of the past week in the Balkan country and forecasters have warned that it will continue in northeast Romania until Wednesday morning.

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