Japan disaster likely to be world's costliest

A traffic light lies tangled with rubble in the devastated city of Kesennuma, northeastern Japan on Wednesday March 23, 2011, after the March 11 earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit the country’s northeast coast. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE
A traffic light lies tangled with rubble in the devastated city of Kesennuma, northeastern Japan on Wednesday March 23, 2011, after the March 11 earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit the country’s northeast coast. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE (AP)

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By TOMOKO A. HOSAKA
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 23, 2011; 8:56 AM

TOKYO -- Japan's government said the cost of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northeast could reach $309 billion, making it the world's most expensive natural disaster on record.

The extensive damage to housing, roads, utilities and businesses across seven prefectures has resulted in direct losses of between 16 trillion yen ($198 billion) and 25 trillion yen ($309 billion), according to a Cabinet Office estimate Wednesday.

The losses figure is considerably higher than other estimates. The World Bank on Monday said damage might reach $235 billion. Investment bank Goldman Sachs had estimated quake damage would be as much as $200 billion.

If the government's projection proves correct, it would top the losses from Hurricane Katrina. The 2005 megastorm that ravaged New Orleans and the surrounding region cost $125 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Japan's estimate does not include the impact of power shortages triggered by damage to a nuclear power plant, so the overall economic impact could be even higher. It also leaves out potential global repercussions.

"The aftermath of the tragic events in Japan will obviously alter the domestic economy," said Takuji Aida, an economist at UBS Securities Japan, in a report. "However, Japan's position in the global economy is such that there must also be some transmission of the shock to other parts of the world."

The Cabinet Office suggested, however, that the economic hit could be softened by the expected upswing in public works and construction as the region rebuilds.

The 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami on March 11 laid waste to Japan's northeastern coast, killing thousands of people and triggering a crisis at a nuclear power plant. Tens of thousands of people living near the plant were evacuated.

Utilities have imposed power rationing, many factories remain closed and key rail lines are impassable.

Toyota Motor Corp., the world's No. 1 automaker, has halted auto production since March 14 because of difficulty securing components, including rubber parts and electronics. By Sunday its lost production will reach 140,000 cars.

The company said Wednesday it will delay the launch of the Prius hybrid minivan in Japan due to disruptions in parts supplies.

Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco said the automaker initially planned to roll out the Prius minivan in April. But the disaster has crippled suppliers and destroyed shops, forcing Toyota to postpone the launch.


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© 2011 The Associated Press

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