Insurers face record $21.7bn hurricane bill

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Insurers are facing a record storm damages bill of $21.7bn (£12bn) after four hurricanes hit the south-eastern US in just six weeks, according to an estimate from the New York-based Insurance Information Institute.

The hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne have wreaked havoc in the Caribbean and the southern US since mid-August. The most recent, Hurricane Jeanne, killed six people when it swept through Florida. The state has not had four hurricanes in a single season since records began in 1851.

Robert Hardwick, the institute's chief economist, said: "The four together probably exceeded the losses of Hurricane Andrew, which was the largest single hurricane" damages bill. Until this year, the worst storm season on record came in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew caused losses of $15.5bn, or $20.3bn at current prices. Eqecat, the US risk-management group, has estimated that the total cost for the insurance industry this year could reach $27bn.

Typhoon Songda, the seventh typhoon to hit Japan this season, also caused insurable losses of about $3bn. Last week, Swiss Resaid its losses from Charley, Frances and Ivan, and Typhoon Songda would total $590m.

It is estimated that Lloyd's of London insurers have already sustained more than £1bn of losses from the first three hurricanes. Analysts say the industry is better prepared than it was 12 years ago. Companies have reduced their exposure to hurricane damage, with most no longer offering cover to many of the homes and businesses on the east coast, leaving a state-subsidised operator to cover the greatest risks.