It’s official: This is the worst hurricane season in recorded history. According to historian Eric Gross, “Hurricane Katrina [is] the most expensive natural disaster in our nation’s history, even when damages are converted to a constant-dollar figure to account for inflation over time.”

Gross says, “It will be the worst hurricane season on record in terms of destruction of property and economic consequence. Damages from Dennis, Katrina and Ophelia will almost certainly top 100 billion dollars. This figure not only exceeds the previous most costly single hurricane (Andrew, 1992) by a factor of four, but the most costly season (2004) by a factor of three. Furthermore, most of this damage is almost entirely accounted for by Katrina. It is the worst hurricane season ever in terms of the physical area of the nation damaged by storms. Again, most of this is due to Katrina, which inflicted complete structural failure to superficial exterior damage on structures across an area of some 90,000 square miles. As has often been mentioned on the news, this is an area approximate in size to Great Britain?a truly staggering expanse of territory.

“It is the first time in nearly a century?99 years?that a major America city has been either physically or functionally destroyed by a disaster (the last being San Francisco in 1906.) No previous hurricane has so crippled a city of comparable size to New Orleans in U.S. history.

“In terms of lingering economic consequence, this season will likely be the most significant in U.S. hurricane history. The disruption of the nation?s oil production, refining and storage capacity has already had dramatic impact on oil prices?which affect every avenue of American commercial and private life. In addition, Rita could bring significant damage to our second national center of the oil industry?the Texas refineries and storage facilities. At this time there is no clear idea of how long it will take to return the offshore oil wells and mainland refineries to their former productive capacity. The impact of this on near-term economic growth, winter natural gas and heating oil availability and the personal finances of all Americans is impossible to precisely predict?but it will certainly be disruptive and painful.

“For Louisiana and Mississippi, the economic fallout of this season will be devastating and very long-term. New Orleans is the financial heart of Louisiana; revenues from taxes, tourism and trade will effectively cease for at least the last quarter of this year. For Mississippi, the effective destruction of its entire coastal chain of tourist attractions, hotels and casinos will lead to high unemployment and a crippling loss of tax revenues. Both Louisiana and Mississippi [are already] ranked in the lower tier of states in economic and social development?No disaster in American history, let alone a hurricane disaster, has displaced as many Americans from their homes as Katrina.”

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