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Damage caused by Balkans' epic floods may exceed damage from wars in the 1990s

Turkeys move around a a car buried in mud and rubble after a landslide at the village of Topcic Polje, near the Bosnian town of Zenica, 90 kilometers north of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tuesday May 20, 2014. Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia have been hit by the worst flooding in more than 100 years, forcing half a million people out of their homes and leading to more than three dozen deaths. (AP Photo/Sulejman Omerbasic)

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Turkeys move around a a car buried in mud and rubble after a landslide at the village of Topcic Polje, near the Bosnian town of Zenica, 90 kilometers north of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tuesday May 20, 2014. Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia have been hit by the worst flooding in more than 100 years, forcing half a million people out of their homes and leading to more than three dozen deaths. (AP Photo/Sulejman Omerbasic)

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina - Recovering from the historic floods in the last week will cost Bosnia and Serbia billions that neither country has, officials said Wednesday.

Although there's no official total for flood damages, the Raiffeisen Investment Group said in a note to investors that preliminary estimates are nearly 1.3 billion euros ($1.8 billion) for Bosnia alone. Bosnian President Bakir Izetbegovic also said damages are in the billions.

In neighbouring Serbia, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has said damages could range up to 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion).

Both countries have already begun talks with the EU for getting international help with reconstruction efforts. Separately, Bosnia's Serb region is talking with its ally Russia.

The flooding affected 40 per cent of Bosnia, Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija said. It wrecked the main agriculture industry in the northern flatlands, wiping out infrastructure, farms, buildings and homes. One quarter of the country's 4 million people have been affected by the six days of record floods and 2,100 landslides.

In addition, Bosnia's infrastructure minister said 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles) of roads have been destroyed or damaged and 30 per cent of railway lines are still unusable.

"This country has not experienced such a natural cataclysm ever," Lagumdzija said Wednesday.

"It's an enormous tragedy," agreed Kristalina Georgieva of the European Commission's International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. The European Union responded immediately with rescue workers, helicopters, boats, tents and other aid from 16 member countries and plans even more.

"Right now, we are at the emergency assistance phase," she said, meaning the focus is on saving lives and preventing diseases. In the next phase, EU and local experts will be assessing the damage and then they will work on recovering and preventing future tragedies.

Bosnia has one of the lowest gross domestic products in Europe and an unemployment rate of up to 44 per cent. Almost no one has property insurance, meaning many residents lost virtually everything.

On Wednesday, a mine exploded near the northern village of Cerik, where the flooding had moved one of the more than 9,000 minefields left over from Bosnia's 1992-95 war. Nobody was hurt.

Serbia, like much of the Balkans, is poor. The country's economy has failed to fully recover following the wars and international sanctions in the 1990s, and is marred by mismanagement and widespread corruption. The unemployment rate officially stands at 20 per cent, but is much higher in reality.

The record flooding has led to at least 44 deaths: 22 in Bosnia, 20 in Serbia and two in Croatia.

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Jovana Gec reported from Belgrade, Serbia. Irena Knezevic contributed from Banja Luka, Bosnia.

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