The number of homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina is almost certain to dwarf the losses from any previous U.S. disaster, a leading home builders’ association said in a report today.

Economists for the National Association of Home Builders said a “large share” of the more than 200,000 homes in New Orleans is likely to be destroyed. The study defines “destroyed” as “made uninhabitable and beyond economically justified repair.

In comparison, Hurricane Andrew in 1992 destroyed an estimated 28,000 housing units; an estimated 27,500 housing units were destroyed by Hurricanes Jeanne, Ivan, Frances and Charley in 2004; and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire reportedly destroyed about 28,000 buildings.

The economists said that the extent of the damage is still unclear, but past experience, together with the visible devastation, provides some basis for projecting the effects on construction activity, the supply and cost of building materials and construction labor, and other implications for the housing market.

Katrina also caused widespread immediate damage in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, but the flooding in New Orleans, Mobile and elsewhere is likely to translate into much larger numbers of homes destroyed, the report said.

Although the floods generally did not tear off roofs or walls or cause structures to collapse, many homes will be permanently uninhabitable, the report said.

The floodwaters carried contaminants that cannot easily be removed, and even if the water were clean, prolonged submersion would cause structures to be damaged beyond repair, according to the report. This is likely to be the fate of a large share of the more than 200,000 homes in the city of New Orleans, the report said.

Of necessity, rebuilding will have to wait, the report said. The immediate need will be to clean up and repair damage to structures that are still viable, according to the report.

The repair process will absorb much of the construction labor near the affected area and several key materials that would otherwise have been used to build new homes, the report said.


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