NEW ORLEANS – Hurricane Katrina's victims have put a price tag on their suffering and it is staggering — including one plaintiff seeking the unlikely sum of $3 quadrillion.
A whopping $3,014,170,389,176,410 is the dollar figure so far sought from some of the largest claims filed against the federal government over damage from the failure of levees and flood walls following the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane.
Of roughly 489,000 total claims, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it has received 247 for at least $1 billion apiece, including the one for $3 quadrillion.
"That's the mother of all high numbers," said Loren Scott, a Baton Rouge-based economist.
For the sake of perspective: A mere $1 quadrillion would dwarf the U.S. gross domestic product, which Scott said was $13.2 trillion in 2007. A stack of one quadrillion pennies would reach Saturn.
Some residents may have grossly exaggerated their claims to send a message to the corps, which has accepted blame for poorly designing the failed levees.
"I understand the anger," Scott said. "I also understand it's a negotiating tactic: Aim high and negotiate down."
Daniel Becnel, Jr., a lawyer who said his clients have filed more than 60,000 claims, said measuring Katrina's devastation in dollars and cents is a nearly impossible task.
"There's no way on earth you can figure it out," he said. "The trauma these people have undergone is unlike anything that has occurred in the history of our country."
The corps released zip codes, but no names, for the 247 claims of at least $1 billion. The list includes a $77 billion claim by the city of New Orleans. Fourteen involve a wrongful death claim. Fifteen were filed by businesses, including several insurance companies.
Little is known about the person who claimed $3 quadrillion. It was filed in Baker, 93 miles northwest of New Orleans. Baker is far from the epicenter of Katrina's destruction, but the city has a trailer park where hundreds of evacuees have lived since the storm.
Katrina, which is blamed for more than 1,600 deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi, is considered the most destructive storm to ever hit the U.S. It caused at least $60 billion in insured losses and could cost Gulf Coast states up to $125 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Most of the claims were filed before a deadline that coincided with Katrina's second anniversary, but the Corps is still receiving them — about 100 claims have arrived over the past three weeks — and is feeding them into a computer database.
The Corps said it isn't passing judgment on the merits of each claim. Federal courts are in charge of deciding if a claim is valid and how much compensation is warranted.
"It's important to the person who filed it, so we're taking every single claim seriously," Corps spokeswoman Amanda Jones said.