In recent weeks, it has been described as the weather disaster of the century, but even the clouds of El Nino have a silver lining - for the insurance companies.

"My response is Hallelujah! My best friend is El Nino." Those were the words of Florida Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson after he had addressed the state legislature about insurance problems over the past five years. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew caused some $30bn in damage. Last year, North Carolina was hit by two destructive hurricances. But this year, thanks apparently to the warm currents of El Nino, the "hurricane alley" of the western Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, has had its quietest storm season in years according to a Reuters report.

Last year there were 13 tropical storms of which nine became hurricanes. This year, already well past the peak of the season, there have been only six storms or hurricanes.

The good news of El Nino, however, is likely to be restricted to the insurance industry. Analysts do not expect significant claims because most of the damage will occur in the under-insured areas of Asia. Between 1970 and 1996, almost all the world's 40 worst insurance losses were in the US and Europe. The 40 worst disasters in terms of fatalities, however, were almost all in Asia.

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