Natural catastrophes led to an estimated $60bn in economic losses in 1996, writes William Hartston. This year could be even worse.

"The time to mend your roof," said John F Kennedy, "is when the sun is shining." The current outbreak of of Ninophobia is certainly providing excellent business for American roofing contractors, but in the United States and in other places around the world, the events of the last few days have shown that people are rarely prepared for the worst ravages of the weather. Here are some of the major disasters this week:

Florida: Early on Sunday, a tornado tore through New Smyrna Beach, destroying 120 homes and injuring dozens of people. Whole upper storeys were torn from buildings by the 150mph winds. "It's a miracle no one was killed," said Bart Hagemeyer of the National Weather Service.

Azores: The last of 29 bodies have been recovered of people killed in a landslide triggered by torrential rains last week. It struck in the early hours of the morning, giving people no chance to escape.

Vietnam: Typhoon Linda, the strongest ever to hit Vietnam, has killed at least 132 people, with up to 4,000 missing. Nearly 3,000 fishing boats have foundered or disappeared in 50-ft-high waves.