Human Toll in Attacks "Incalculable," Costs Catastrophic

National Geographic News
September 12, 2001

As rescue workers continued the heart-wrenching work of retrieving bodies and possible survivors from the rubble of Tuesday's terrorist attacks in the United States, it was widely believed that thousands of people died in the tragedy—most of them still officially unaccounted for.

President Bush said in a televised address Tuesday evening that "thousands of lives were suddenly ended" in the attacks, which he called "evil, despicable acts of terror."

Those who watched the surreal sequence of events unfold were stunned at the magnitude and horror of the attacks, in which suspected terrorists hijacked four passenger jets from U.S. airports and slammed them into both World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, and a hillside in Pennsylvania.

A report in The New York Post on Wednesday said some officials fear the death toll could be 10,000 or more in New York alone.

"We're afraid to even guess how many people are dead," one exhausted police official was quoted as saying. "We don't even know how many of our own people are dead."

Insurance experts told that the terrorists appeared to have inflicted as much measurable damage on 16 acres of lower Manhattan as major hurricanes have wreaked on entire cities and states.

"The human toll is incalculable," said Joe Annotti, a spokesman for the National Association of Independent Insurers. "The total loss is very likely to be, if not the largest, one of the five largest catastrophic events in U.S. history," he added.

Stephanie Eakins, a financial analyst at Weiss Ratings Inc. in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, said the financial losses were likely to be "significant, but not a record." She said a conservative estimate, based on the damage reported on Tuesday, was from U.S. $2 billion to $5 billion.

According to the Star's report, insurers view Hurricane Andrew, which swept through Florida and other states in 1992, as the most financially catastrophic event in the nation's history. The natural disaster cost insurance companies U.S. $16 billion.

In the terrorist attacks, insurers will be sorting out property and liability losses for airlines whose jets were involved in the crashes, for the owners of the World Trade Center and the surrounding buildings, for tenants who lost their livelihoods in the tragedy, and for the owners of cars and other property that was lost.

"The property losses are finite," Annotti said. "Then you've got open-ended claims to consider—workers' compensation and business interruption claims in one of the most heavily populated business sites in the nation."

This summary report was compiled from news articles in The New York Post and The Kansas City Star.

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