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Disaster costs triple to $218 billion

By Aaron Smith, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Worldwide economic losses from catastrophes soared last year, the deadliest year for disasters since 1976, according to an insurance company study unveiled Tuesday.

Economic losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters totaled $218 billion, according to reinsurer Swiss Re, based in Zurich, Switzerland. The company said the figure was more than triple the $68 billion damage of the prior year. Insured losses totaled $48 billion, up 60% from 2009.

Disasters killed 304,000 people in 2010, the highest death toll in 35 years, according to the Swiss reinsurer. That's compared to 15,000 disaster deaths in 2009.

"The number of fatalities and insured losses from earthquakes are on the rise," said Balz Grollimund, one of the study's authors. "The main reasons are population growth, the higher number of people living in urban areas as well as rising wealth and rapidly increasing exposures.'

Much of the death toll came from the earthquake that devastated Port au Prince, Haiti, killing 222,000 people in January 2010. The death toll for last year also included 56,000 fatalities from a summer heatwave in Russia, and more than 6,200 deaths from summer flood in China and Pakistan.

Despite Haiti's horrific death toll, the quake was not among the top 10 most costly insured losses for the year, according to Swiss Re. The most expensive disaster was the Feb. 27 earthquake off the coast of Chile, which had $8 billion in insured losses.

In 10th place among insured losses was the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon rig off the U.S. Gulf Coast, with $1 billion.

This year is off to a bad start, with the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the Feb. 22 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Swiss Re said that damages from the New Zealand earthquake are estimated to cost between $6 billion and $12 billion. The damages from the Japanese tsunami of March 11 are still being tallied.

The tsunami-earthquake of Japan killed more than 10,000 people and more than 17,000 remain missing. The cost has been estimated at more than $300 billion. To top of page

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