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Originally published May 20, 2014 at 6:05 AM | Page modified May 20, 2014 at 12:41 PM

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Floods, landslides leave many Bosnians homeless

It took only a few minutes for a roaring landslide to leave Ramiz Skopljak homeless for the second time in his life.


Associated Press

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TOPCIC POLJE, Bosnia-Herzegovina —

It took only a few minutes for a roaring landslide to leave Ramiz Skopljak homeless for the second time in his life.

The first time he had been 47, and though his house was a ruin, the Bosnian war at least left him his land in Topcic Polje, central Bosnia, on which to start anew.

Now he is 65 and even if he could find the folder with the title deed buried somewhere in the mud covering his village it wouldn't help. The land itself has disappeared, along with a chunk of the hill it stood on.

"This is worse than war," the broken man whispered.

His family had to run out of the house so fast on Thursday that none of the eight members could even grab a wallet, a personal document or a mobile phone. They have nothing now.

Skopljak's monthly retirement pay is 215 euros ($295), and he shares it with his wife, his son and his daughter-in-law who are among Bosnia's 44 percent unemployed. He said he does not know how many houses the landslide swallowed but he would be surprised if 30 percent of the village's 1,430 residents will be able to stay in Topcic Polje.

More than 2,000 landslides have been recorded in the past few days in Bosnia, which along with neighboring Serbia is struggling with the worst flooding in southeastern Europe in more than a century.

At least 43 people have died in five days of flooding caused by unprecedented torrential rain. Entire towns and villages are under water and tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes.

Bosnia's Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija called the flood and landslides damage "immense."

"After the war, people had nothing," he said. "Now they have nothing except bank loans they took to rebuild their homes" at the end of the country's 1992-95 war that killed at least 100,000 people and left millions homeless.

Today the country is upside down. Buses and trucks with thousands of volunteers and collected aid are jamming still-passable roads. People not affected by the calamity offer their homes to those who lost theirs.

It helps.

The only good thing Skopljak has to say about life now has to do with the help unknown people are offering.

A woman in the neighboring town pulled his wife by the sleeve on the street and offered the family shelter on the bottom floor of her house. He still does not know her name.

Walking in the ankle-high black mud that now covers his village, Skopljak found parts of his household all over the place.

"I think this is my bedsheet. That over there is what is left of my TV," he said, pointing at the familiar items.

His neighbor Melkija Mulabdic, 45, stood at the railway tracks that run through Topcic Polje crying. She fled her native Srebrenica where she lost her father and two brothers in a 1995 massacre -- the worst killing in Europe since World War II.

"But this did it to me," she said covering her face with shaking hands. "I will never come back here."

Skopljak's eyes filled with tears. On Saturday, his son moved to his wife's parents' home in another city, where the family will try first to get documents and then perhaps look for a future in another country.

They will take with them "the apple of my eye" -- his 2½-year-old granddaughter.

As he passed through the village, he was spotted by his childhood friend, Salim Klobodanovic, who ran out of his damaged house and the two men embraced and cried on the road.

Then Klobodanovic took Skopljak's hand and led him to a muddy field next to his own home.

"Ramiz, listen to me!" he grabbed his friend's chin and lifted it up.

"We will build it here," he said, stomping the muddy ground with his foot. "You and I, Ramiz. Together. I inherited this plot from my father. Consider it yours as of this moment."



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