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Japan disasters to cost up to $309 billion

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s government said the cost of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country’s northeast this month could reach $309 billion.

The extensive damage to housing, infrastructure and businesses could total between 16 trillion yen and 25 trillion yen ($309 billion), according to a Cabinet Office estimate Wednesday.

That 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.

The 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami on March 11 laid waste to Japan’s northeastern coast, killing thousands of people and triggering a crisis at a nuclear power plant. Tens of thousands of people living near the plant were evacuated.

Utilities have imposed power rationing, many factories remain closed and key rail lines are impassable.

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s No. 1 automaker, has halted auto production since March 14 because of difficulty securing components, including rubber parts and electronics. By Sunday its lost production will reach 140,000 cars.

The company said Wednesday it will delay the launch of the Prius hybrid minivan in Japan due to disruptions in parts supplies.

Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco said the automaker initially planned to roll out the Prius minivan in April. But the disaster has crippled suppliers and destroyed shops, forcing Toyota to postpone the launch.

The government reportedly plans to inject public money into banks to help support lending as companies rebuild. It may finance that from a fund of 11 trillion yen ($135 billion) that is still available under a law on emergency support to banks passed after the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Tokyo also is working on plans to provide low interest loans of up to 10 trillion yen ($122 billion) to help companies recover from quake damage, according to a news report.

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