Thousands of people living near the Pancevo industrial zone outside Belgrade have been evacuating their homes for fear that (NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ) strikes may cause an environmental disaster, Serb media said ( Down To Earth , Vol 7 No 24). The state news agency Tanjug said that following a weekend raid on the complex some 20 km northeast of Belgrade, about 80,000 people had been evacuated, but local radio said about 7,000 people had left their homes on the night when the air raids started. Their homes are next to the Pancevo petrochemical plant in the northern Vojvodina province.
Yugoslav health and environment officials have warned of the danger of pollution and a possible "ecological catastrophe' that could affect residents of Topola and Vojlovica. Tanjug said NATO raids on the refinery had caused a major fire and large quantities of toxic and explosive substances had been released into the atmosphere and into the Danube River. Neither Romania nor Bulgaria have confirmed any contamination in their water. A Pancevo resident said that authorities have advised people to carefully wash vegetables. "That suggests that something dangerous might be in the air,' the resident said. The chemical plant, as well as a nearby refinery, have been targeted and hit several times since March 24, when NATO started its strike against what it says are exclusively military targets. Pancevo's civil defence council started an organised evacuation on April 18, the day after the petrochemical plant was hit for the first time and the refinery suffered its worst blow. Thick black smoke from the refinery could still be seen in Pancevo days after it was hit the last time. Residents said they noticed some changes in the air. "The civil defence provides buses for transportation of people who don't have their own car every night before the sirens,' the resident said.