August 31, 2005

U.N. official says Katrina among worst natural disasters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hurricane Katrina could easily dwarf
the devastation of other recent natural disasters in terms of
pure economic costs, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator who
oversaw the Asian tsunami relief effort said on Wednesday.

United Nations Undersecretary-General Jan Egeland, who
oversaw relief efforts after the Indian Ocean tsunami in
December 2004, offered Washington U.N. assistance in a formal
letter to new U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton.

"The United Nations stands ready to help with any kind of
disaster expertise that might be required ... in full
recognition that the United States is the country in the world
that possesses the greatest civilian and military search and
rescue and recovery assets themselves," Egeland told Reuters in
an interview.

He said U.S. officials had thanked the U.N. for its offer,
but had not requested any assistance so far.

Egeland called Katrina one of "the largest, most
destructive natural disasters ever."

Egeland said you could not compare the tsunami and Katrina
in terms of the human toll, but in purely economic costs, this
week's storm that ravaged New Orleans and other parts of the
U.S. Gulf coast could easily dwarf the devastation of other
recent natural disasters.

While the U.N. estimated to tsunami's cost at $10 billion,
estimates of insured losses from Katrina ranged from $9 billion
to $25 billion on Tuesday.

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses have been
destroyed, more than 78,000 people have been evacuated to
emergency shelters, and the death toll has now reached at least

Egeland, who had ruffled U.S. feathers in December when he
initially called rich nations' tsunami donations "stingy"
before rowing back, said both the U.S. government and aid
organizations had limited even greater devastation from Katrina
by evacuating citizens before the storm hit.

"The whole world is now watching the heart-wrenching scenes
of how millions of Americans have had their lives affected,
homes lost, livelihoods lost and there is of course an enormous
wave of sympathy from all over the world," he said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said earlier on
Wednesday 10 to 12 foreign governments have offered general
assistance to the United States to deal with the hurricane
aftermath but no decision had been made about how these offers
might be used.