JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Damage from Hurricane Andrew will go well beyond $20 billion, said the chief economist of Barnett Banks Inc.

The storm caused at least $17 billion to $20 billion in property losses alone, said the economist, John Godfrey, who published the figures in a Barnett economics newsletter. Other estimates have ranged between $10 billion and $30 billion -- in all cases ranking the hurricane as the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

"When lost incomes and sales and emergency expenses are included, damages will surge well beyond $20 billion," Mr. Godfrey wrote.

"Rebuilding will take several years, but south Dade County will never fully recover from the human and physical destruction that Andrew wrought."

The hurricane destroyed or damaged more than 90,000 homes and left an estimated 250,000 people homeless, with the heaviest damage in southern Dade County.

Private Insurers' Share

Of an estimated $17 billion in "total monetary destruction to both public and private property," about half will be reimbursed by private insurance, Mr. Godfrey said. Federal assistance will reduce the remaining out-of-pocket costs.

He said Hurricane Hugo, which hit Charleston, S.C., in September 1989, provides a benchmark for assessing Andrew's impact.

Hugo's property damage totaled $6.3 billion, of which only $3.3 billion was reimbursed by insurance and federal sources.

Like Andrew, Hugo inflicted the heaviest damage on residences. A University of South Carolina study shows that homeowners and renters recovered only 45% of their losses, while commercial businesses got 80%.

The recovery from Hurricane Hugo provided a boom to construction and lifted spending for building materials and home furnishings. The rebound lasted approximately a year and a half; then activity slumped.

"Hugo also made it clear that the property losses overwhelm any temporary benefit from the subsequent reconstruction," the analysis said. "Construction does experience a short-term boost, but the community overall suffers a loss in wealth."

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