December 23rd, 2009

2009 Catastrophe Update: Other Significant Events of 2009

Posted at 10:03 AM ET

Julian Alovisi, Assistant Vice President, Instrat®


In 2009, there were frequent reminders of the risks posed by earthquakes, and it was Asia again that suffered the most when two massive earthquakes struck Indonesia and the Samoa region in the space of a day. The most deadly earthquake of the year hit southern Sumatra in Indonesia on September 30, killing more than 1,100 people. The earthquake, measuring 7.6Mw, left around 500,000 people homeless after 250,000 homes were damaged, half of them completely destroyed.

Officials estimated it will cost around 21.5 trillion rupiah (USD2.2bn) to rebuild damaged infrastructure and buildings in the earthquake-hit areas, but AIR Worldwide said insured losses are not likely to be significant because of the low penetration rate of earthquake insurance in Sumatra.

A day before the Indonesian earthquake, a massive 8.0Mw quake struck in the South Pacific, generating a series of tsunamis that caused devastation in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said three waves of up to 46 feet (14 meters) smashed into the low-lying Samoa islands, wiping out whole villages. More than 220 people were killed by the waves, and about 10,000 people were made homeless.

Another strong earthquake caused widespread damage in Italy in April. The 6.3Mw earthquake destroyed thousands of buildings in the mountainous Abruzzo region and claimed around 300 lives in Italy’s deadliest earthquake in nearly 30 years. Officials said up to 15,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed (10,000 in the town of L’Aquila) and that as many as 28,000 people were left homeless. Munich Re said the economic damage from the earthquake will reach around USD2.5 billion, and USD260 million of this amount is likely to be insured(1).

Earlier in the year, bushfires fanned by strong winds killed more than 170 people in the Australian state of Victoria. A total of 1,700 square miles (4,400 square kilometres) were affected by the bushfires in February and entire towns were completely destroyed in what have been described as the worst fires in Australia’s history. Officials said more than 1,800 homes were destroyed. According to the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA), the insurance industry received 9,100 claims from the bushfires, amounting to around AUD1.1 billion (USD1 billion)(2).

Finally, man-made losses in 2009 were significantly down on 2008. Swiss Re said insured losses for man-made catastrophes totalled around USD3 billion in 2009 compared with USD7.8 billion in 2008.

(1) Munich Re NatCat Service 4 June 2009

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