Natural disasters this year cost $213 billion

Swiss Re totes up heavy toll exacted by storms, quakes and wildfires worldwide

Natural disasters cost US$155 billion (S$213 billion) this year, and several struck the United States particularly hard.

Hurricanes Michael and Florence, the California wildfires and Hawaii's volcano eruption are all on the list of the most expensive global disasters of 2018, according to the Zurich-based reinsurance company Swiss Re.

"Like last year, the losses from the 2018 series of events highlight the increasing vulnerability of the ever-growing concentration of humans and property values on coastlines and in the urban-wildlife interface," Swiss Re said.

"The very presence of human and property assets in areas such as these means extreme weather conditions can quickly turn into catastrophes in terms of losses."

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES

More than 8,500 wildfires burned nearly 769,000ha in California this year, making it the worst fire season on record, Cal Fire said.

The Camp Fire, which ignited in early November and spread unthinkably fast and killed 86 people. Insured losses from the Camp Fire alone could top US$10 billion.

HURRICANE MICHAEL

The hurricane made landfall just shy of a Category 5, but the storm was the worst-case scenario for Mexico Beach, Florida, and its surroundings near Panama City.

Michael was the third-strongest hurricane on record, in terms of pressure to make landfall in the US, and had the strongest winds since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Economists predict Michael will cost US$25 billion.

HURRICANE FLORENCE

Hurricane Florence may have weakened significantly before it made landfall in the Carolinas in early September, but it generated the rain of several storms. Hundreds of thousands lost power in North Carolina, where more than 10,000 fled to shelters before the storm hit.

TYPHOON MANGKHUT

Mangkhut slammed into northern Philippines in September with the strength of a Category 5 hurricane, weakened while crossing the South China Sea and then hit Hong Kong.

It was the strongest storm to make landfall in the Philippines since Megi in 2010, and the strongest in Hong Kong since 1983. It prompted the Hong Kong Observatory to issue a rare Signal 10 on its 1-to-10 scale for storms. It killed over 130 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

EUROPE DROUGHT AND WILDFIRES

Wildfires ravaged Greece this year, including a fire in Attica that killed dozens of people and drove residents running into the sea. Drought conditions and a heat wave in Europe gave rise to the Attica fires, which were among the worst in modern history for Greece.

JAPAN FLOODS

More than 200 people died this summer as heavy downpours battered south-west Japan. Up to 180cm of rain fell in Japan's Shikoku Island over 10 days in late June and early July.

EARTHQUAKES, TSUNAMIS IN INDONESIA

Even before the Dec 22 tsunami, earthquakes in Indonesia had been catastrophic this year. Then, just a few days before Christmas, one of the most active volcanoes in the world exploded in a violent eruption and triggered underwater landslides, which led to a tsunami that killed more than 400 people.

VOLCANO ERUPTIONS IN HAWAII

The East Rift Zone of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii exploded to life this spring, becoming far more active than normal. Neighbourhoods burned down and were buried by the molten rock that spewed from the Big Island's volcano. There were no deaths from this slow-motion eruption, but it will end up costing around US$1 billion.

THE WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2018, with the headline 'Natural disasters this year cost $213 billion'. Print Edition | Subscribe