Insurers face $17bn bill for disaster claims

Storms, forest fires, heatwaves, plane crashes, earthquakes and terrorist attacks have all plagued the world this year, with the damage costing as much as $65bn (£37bn) - but the losses for insurance companies will be manageable.

According to research published yesterday by the reinsurer Swiss Re, insurers are facing claims of only $17bn because that is the full amount that has been covered. This figure is higher than last year, but is not a record.

In 1992, insurers faced losses of $36bn in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, and losses of $35bn were recorded in 2001, including the attacks on the World Trade Centre.

"This will not go down as a record year for claims, although it is an expensive one," Aurelia Zanetti at Swiss Re said yesterday.

Almost 20,000 people were killed worldwide by natural and man-made catastrophes. Natural disasters caused a loss of $15bn for insurers, and man-made disasters such as industrial fires, explosions and plane crashes a further $2bn.

There were only five losses that cost insurers in excess of $1bn, all in the US. Hurricane Isabel battered the East Coast in September, 400 tornadoes brought devastation to the Mid-West in May, and California was ravaged by forest fires.

Terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 475 people this year but the cost to insurers has not yet been calculated.