China earthquake could cost US$20 billion: AIR


LONDON — The cost of the devastating earthquake in China, which killed nearly 15,000 people, is likely to exceed US$20 billion, according to leading disaster modelling firm AIR Worldwide.

The 7.9 magnitude earthquake, which struck to the northwest of Sichuan’s provincial capital Chengdu on Monday, was the worst to hit China in 32 years, reducing many buildings in the area to rubble. The earthquake occurred along the Longmeng Shan fault in the North-South Seismic belt of Central China, which presents the highest catastrophe risk in the country, said AIR Worldwide, which uses property and insurance data to estimate the cost of damage from disasters.

The region is prone to earthquakes — there have been at least eight of at least 7.8 magnitude in the past 500 years — and is also one of the most heavily populated regions of the country, said AIR.

The earthquake fortunately did not directly hit Chengdu, where AIR estimates the total property value is more than US$115 billion, of which only a small percent is covered by insurance.

It estimates the value of property in all the counties of Sichuan province at about US$215 billion.

But the firm cautioned that the full extent of the damage could take weeks to discover. The Diexi earthquake, which struck in 1933 in the same region with a magnitude of 7.5, caused widespread landslides that disrupted river flows. One regional dam broke 45 days after the event, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths, said AIR.