Harvey to be most expensive U.S. natural disaster at $160 billion

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Hurricane Harvey is expected to become the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history, forecasting company AccuWeather reported on Wednesday, estimating the impact on the U.S. economy to approach at least $160 billion.

Harvey made landfall in Texas on Friday night as a powerful category four hurricane with winds near 130 miles (215 km) per hour, causing widespread destruction in local communities. Heavy rainfall has since unleashed devastating floods in Houston and other parts of Texas and Louisiana.

“This will be the worst natural disaster in American history,” said Dr. Joel Myers, the founder and president of AccuWeather. “The economy’s impact, by the time its total destruction is completed, will approach $160 billion, which is similar to the combined effect of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.”

The cost will shave an estimated 0.8 percent off gross domestic product (GDP). “Business leaders and the Federal Reserve, major banks, insurance companies, etc. should begin to factor in the negative impact this catastrophe will have on business, corporate earnings and employment,” Myers said.

Myers noted that the disaster is only just beginning in certain areas. Harvey, which has weakened to a tropical storm but continues to dump heavy rains on southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, made landfall in Louisiana on early Wednesday morning. It will move further inland over the next few days.

“Parts of Houston, the United States’ fourth largest city, will be uninhabitable for weeks and possibly months due to water damage, mold, disease-ridden water and all that will follow this 1,000-year flood,” Myers explained, adding that rising rivers and levee breaches could cause additional flooding.

Myers said meteorologists did a “very good job” in warning people about Harvey, but said public officials were slow to react in some cases or simply didn’t know what to do. “This was unfortunate because when a natural disaster threatens, minutes and hours count and preparation and risk avoidance is imperative,” he said.

In addition to the financial damage, at least 30 people are believed to have been killed in Texas alone, and the death toll is expected to rise. “AccuWeather cautions that the negative impacts from the storm are far from over .. We urge all citizens near the path of Hurricane Harvey to remain vigilant and be prepared to take immediate action if flood waters rise,” Myers said.

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