Katrina to Cost More than Afghanistan, Iraq Wars Combined

The cost to the taxpayer for disaster relief for Hurricane Katrina is about to his $200 billion and will likely top the $300 billion spent for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, combined.

Katrina May Cost U.S. as Much as Two Wars (AP)

One storm could end up costing almost as much as two wars. Although estimates of Hurricane Katrina’s staggering toll on the treasury are highly imprecise, costs are certain to climb to $200 billion in the coming weeks. The final accounting could approach the more than $300 billion spent in four years to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. Analysts inside and outside government agree that the $62 billion that Washington has spent so far was merely the first installment of perhaps an unparalleled sum. “I cannot put a cost figure on it,” Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday in a visit to the hard-hit states.

The government never has dealt with a disaster of this scale: 90,000 square miles of the Gulf Coast affected, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced and an entire metropolitan area under water. In 1992, the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Louisiana cost $35 billion. The price for the 6.7-magnitude temblor in the Northridge area of Los Angeles in 1994 was $15 billion to $20 billion. Members of the Louisiana congressional delegation say it could cost $100 billion just in New Orleans.

As for the overall toll, G. William Hoagland, the top budget adviser to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said: “We’re obviously over $100 billion. I just don’t know how much over.” As the House approved President Bush’s second spending request Thursday, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee predicted that lawmakers would repeat the effort in a few weeks. “It will be the greatest appropriations outlay for a disaster in the history of doing this,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.

The imprecision in calculating the costs reflects a Washington process of handling a crisis and the uncertainty of when the furious spending in the immediate aftermath will slow significantly. Sounding like engineers, number crunchers talked of the “burn rate” — how much and how fast money was being spent. The weekend after the hurricane hit Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, the government still was writing checks for close to $2 billion per day on items such as the 17 million meals ready to eat, tens of thousands of trailers to house refugees, and contracts to rebuild highways and bridges. That amount slowed to about $1 billion per day last week and was expected to drop off in the weeks ahead.

At first, Congress decided to give the Bush administration the money it requested, comparing the situation to that in days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Now, the Office of Management and Budget and the appropriations committees in the House and Senate are contacting government agencies to find out what they need for relief, recovery and rebuilding.

They may get mind-boggling answers because Katrina has shattered all the models on picking up the pieces. Insurers and actuaries have dealt with the wind damage from hurricanes, but not the impact on buildings and roads of an entire city engulfed in bacteria-laced, sewage-tainted water, possibly for weeks. “An entire metropolitan area flooded is something we don’t have a lot of experience with,” said Rade Musulin, an actuary with the Florida Farm Bureau.

Which might explain why the federal government wasn’t able to fix everything within 24 hours.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Herb says:

    I wonder how much longer it will take for the Cindy Sheehans and the sore Democrats to start demanding that the troops in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama to be sent home

    I am anxiously awaiting for Polosi, Reed and their likes to present a plan to solve the Katrina problems.

    But, I am not holding mu breath for it.

  2. ken says:

    This pretty much goes to show why the war on Iraq was stupidly wrong. Besides it being immoral, unjust and illegal it was also fought on borrowed money and weakened our nations balance sheet. Now that we have a crisis and need money for reconstruction purposes the cost will be that much higher due to conservatives reckless disregard for fiscal sanity.

  3. Herb says:

    Hey Ken:

    Perhaps you forgot about the Liberal Democrat who is Governor of Louisiana and the Liberal Mayor of NO who had an abundance of fiscal responsibility along with several Billion Dollars they squandered for the so called flood control projects they wanted. You should get acquainted with Louisiana Politics before you condemn anyone.

    As for the Iraq War, I gather you would prefer to let some terrorist tell you what and how to think. Your Un American attitude demonstrates what you think about our troops who are giving their lives so you can make a fool of yourself.

    You truly are a Young Yuppie Whipper Snapper.
    That has no respect for anyone but your self.

  4. anjinSan says:

    Fix things overnight? No I don’t think anyone expected that. Have the people who run the country cut their vacations short in the face of an unprecedented disaster in our country, yes, that I expected…

    But hey, Bush says “Brownie” did a heck of a job, so all it well!

  5. ken says:

    Herb, the war on Iraq was a needless diversion. Everyone knows that Bush lied us into that war.

    Today is the fourth year annaversary of Osama bin Ladens’ terrorist attack on New York and DC yet he still has not been brought to justice. We fought and won WWII in less time.

  6. Herb says:

    Ken:

    If Bush lied, then so did a whole host of countries as well as a whole host of Democrats including Clinton. I am surprised that you think that fighting terrorism is a “diversion”. For me I am glad we have a force that is giving their all so you and I can enjoy our freedoms without fear of attack from some towel head terrorist bent on killing himself in the name of allah. You should be thankful also.

    Sure we won WW 2 in 4 years, but we fought an enemy who at least had the courage and guts to stand up and fight, they do not fight like those pigs we are fighting now who only on rare occasion will fight like men and they are beaten every time. And by the way Ken, I still vividly remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on December 7, 1941.

    And anjinsan. Glad you took a chill pill.

  7. Marcia L. Neil says:

    Naval command submarine fleets may be investigating marine mammal linkages near planet-wide “flash points”, and so displacing the beasts means unusual marine faunal waterway activity, the resultant flooding of specific continental regions.