BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ Defying an evacuation order, thousands of residents in eastern Hungary battled rising waters today along the Tisza River and its tributaries, toting sandbags and shoring up dikes.

``The people are confident they can meet this challenge. Everyone, except those too old and feeble, is on the dikes, working round the clock, reinforcing the sandbags,'' said Ilona Seres, an official in the village of Nagykoerue, 75 miles southeast of Budapest.

``The village is so pretty, with cherry blossoms everywhere, and we'd be heartbroken to have to leave,'' she said by phone.

So far, only one mother and her two children have left the village of 1,860.

It's a situation seen repeatedly in eastern Hungary, where 22,000 people have been ordered to evacuate, but only a handful have complied.

``We called for the evacuation of nine villages and regional farmsteads because the dikes on the Tisza started giving way overnight, but only a few have moved out so far,'' said Tibor Dobson, spokesman for the Interior Ministry's Directorate for the Prevention of Catastrophes.

Work shoring up the dikes proceeded along 1,296 miles of embankment. The floods began in early April and have put 521,170 acres of land under water. Eight million sandbags now shore up the embankment from the rising waters, fed by rain and melting snow.

The Tisza, Hungary's second-longest river, reached record high levels in recent days. In the city of Szolnok, the river peaked at nearly 34.5 feet, more than twice its normal level.

In Tiszasuely, 795 people left the village earlier in the week, but many returned and were unwilling to evacuate again, Mayor Tibor Csoeroegi said.

In Vezseny, 15 houses were evacuated, and the city hall in Tiszavarkony was abandoned after walls cracked.

The government has provided 3,161 soldiers to assist in flood prevention, along with 24 amphibious vehicles, 305 trucks and 13 military helicopters to ferry sand to critical spots.