(03/23/11) TOKYO (AP) - Japan's government said the cost of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northeast could reach $309 billion, making it the world's costliest natural disaster on record.

The extensive damage to housing, roads, utilities and businesses across seven prefectures (states) has resulted in losses of between 16 trillion yen ($198 billion) and 25 trillion yen ($309 billion), according to a Cabinet Office estimate Wednesday. That could drag the economic growth rate down by 0.5 percent this year.

The losses figure is considerably higher than other estimates. The World Bank on Monday said damage might reach $235 billion. Investment bank Goldman Sachs had estimated quake damage of as much as $200 billion.

If the government's projection proves correct, it would top the overall losses from Hurricane Katrina. The 2005 megastorm that ravaged New Orleans and the surrounding region cost $125 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Japan's estimate does not include the impact of power shortages triggered by damage to a nuclear power plant, so the final figure could be even higher. It also leaves out potential global repercussions.

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