Slovenia says ice damage bill to exceed $89 mln

LJUBLJANA Thu Feb 6, 2014 9:50am EST

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LJUBLJANA Feb 6 (Reuters) - The damage to Slovenia's infrastructure caused by heavy ice in the past week will cost at least 66 million euros ($89 million), although extensive forest devastation could push the sum much higher, government ministers said on Thursday.

Infrastructure Minister Samo Omerzel said damage to electricity power lines was estimated at around 27 million euros, plus another 10 million euros for the power distribution system.

"The damage is extraordinary because of broken (power) cables, fallen trees. Today we still have 35,000 households without electricity," Omerzel told reporters after a cabinet session.

Damage to the state railway was put at 20 million euros, while the repair of roads could cost at least nine million euros, he said.

The devastation, which will take months to repair, occurred mostly in west Slovenia where a freak ice storm coated parked cars, petrol stations, street signs and houses and brought down electricity lines and trees.

The extreme weather comes at a bad time for the tiny EU member country, which is already going through the worst economic crisis in its two decades as an independent state, Slovenia narrowly avoided an EU/IMF bailout last year.

Farming Minister Dejan Zidan said damage to forests, which cover almost 60 percent of Slovenia, was staggering but could not be estimated just yet.

"We cannot remember ever having had this kind of damage," he said. A detailed assessment would be possible only after more than 6,000 kilometres (3,750 miles) of backroads, clogged with snow, ice and fallen trees, are cleared.

Zidan said Slovenia would soon start talks on "favourable, long-term loans" with the European Investment Bank and the Council of Europe Development Bank.

Local media reported that the government may also apply for funds from the EU's solidarity fund, set up for major natural disasters in member states.

($1 = 0.7390 euros) (Reporting by Almir Demirovic; Writing by Zoran Radosavljevic; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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