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Record 99 federal disasters mean $35 billion in insured losses

Vyto Starinskas / The Rutland Herald via AP

Hurricane Irene was the single costliest natural disaster in the U.S. in 2011. Much of the damage was to infrastructure like this road in in Killington, Vt.

This year will go down as the second costliest in the U.S. in terms of insured losses from natural disasters, the Insurance Information Institute said Friday. And it will set the record for number of federal major disaster declarations: 99 issued throughout 2011, up from the previous record of 81 in 2010.

"Catastrophes striking the United States in the first nine months of 2011 caused $32.6 billion in direct insured losses, nearly double the $18.6 billion in catastrophe-caused direct insured losses insurers generally incur over the first nine months of any given year," III President Robert Hartwig said in a statement

"The $32.6 billion figure doesn’t even include the significant insured losses which arose after the pre-Halloween snowstorm, which caused enormous damage to multiple states along the Atlantic seaboard," he added. "Coupled with other events in 2011’s fourth quarter, direct insured losses could exceed $35 billion this year."

Total losses, including those not insured, are likely far in excess of $75 billion, the institute said.

Insurance Information Institute

The institute said that even with the huge payout by insurers the industry was still healthy, with its net worth of insurers falling by only 4 percent to $538.6 billion.

As for disaster declarations, the record 99 is "nearly triple the average of 34 per year dating back to 1953," the insurance group stated.

Federal officials earlier this month noted that 2011 saw a record number of billion-dollar disasters. The largest single disaster this year was Hurricane Irene's damage to the East Coast, estimated at $7.3 billion and claiming 45 lives.

The head of the National Weather Service on Friday issued a statement of "Goodbye and good riddance" to 2011.

The number of weather-related disasters, death and injuries this year "have served as a wakeup call, a jolting realization that our society is increasingly vulnerable to the weather as a result of a growing population and sophisticated infrastructure that continues to expand," NWS Director Jack Hayes said. "And while we witnessed an unmatched succession of extremes in nearly every weather category this year, climate scientists have pointed to the likelihood that such extremes are not an anomaly but may be the new normal."

So if 2011 is second, what's first? That title is still held by 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. Insured losses were $66 billion, with more than $40 billion from Katrina alone.