WASHINGTON - Victims of Hurricane Katrina are seeking to sue carbon gas-emitting multinationals for helping fuel global warming and boosting the devastating 2005 storm, legal documents showed.
The class action suit brought by residents from southern Mississippi, which was ravaged by hurricane-force winds and driving rains, was first filed just weeks after the August 2005 storm hit.
"The plaintiffs allege that defendants' operation of energy, fossil fuels, and chemical industries in the United States caused the emission of greenhouse gasses that contributed to global warming," say the documents seen by AFP.
The increase in global surface air and water temperatures "in turn caused a rise in sea levels and added to the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina, which combined to destroy the plaintiffs' private property, as well as public property useful to them."
More than 1,200 people died in Hurricane Katrina, which lashed the area, swamping New Orleans in Louisiana when levees gave way under the weight of the waves.
The suit, claiming compensation and punitive damages from multinational companies including Shell, ExxonMobile, BP and Chevron, has already passed several key legal hurdles, after initially being knocked back by the lowest court.
Three federal appeals court judges decided in October 2009 that the case could be heard. But in February the same court decided to re-examine whether it could be heard this time with nine judges.
Other companies named in the suit include Honeywell and American Electric Power, with the residents charging that "the defendants' greenhouse gas emissions caused saltwater, debris, sediment, hazardous substances, and other materials to enter, remain on, and damage plaintiffs' property."
They allege that companies had a duty to "avoid unreasonably endangering the environment, public health, public and private property."
The district court, which initially rejected the case, ruled that it was "a debate which simply has no place in the court."
The court argued that Congress first had to enact legislation "which sets appropriate standards by which this court can measure conduct."
Mississippi residents must now wait for the appeals court to fix a new hearing, in principle within the next three months.
A decision would then be due by the end of 2010, and both sides could also then take the case to the Supreme Court.