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The Most Costly Earthquakes

The March 2011 earthquake off the coast of Japan has rocked international markets as the world tries to gauge the reality of the human and economic devastation in the country.

Japan's 9.0 magnitude earthquake is a rare event, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). Globally we experience an average of only one earthquake above an 8.0 magnitude each year. This, of course, varies from year to year, with the most recent examples being four 8.0+ magnitude earthquakes in 2007 and zero in 2008.

Although human and economic costs can vary greatly, even for the most forceful earthquakes. The most destructive occur in close proximity to highly populated areas and can be greatly exacerbated when people are not properly warned about secondary events, such as tsunamis, aftershocks or landslides. However, much destruction and loss of life is unavoidable, since even the most advanced warning systems may only give people minutes to find safety.

It is far too early to even estimate the losses resulting from the disaster in Japan, but it will likely be one of the costliest of all time. After the quake, the Insurance Information Institutereleased a list of the most costly earthquakes of all time, by total losses paid by insurance companies.

"The insurance industry will fulfill its traditional role as an economic first-responder, helping Japan recover from today's devastating quake, just as it has done in New Zealand and Chile," said Dr. Robert Hartwig, an economist and president of the III, in a statement.

So, what were the most costly earthquakes of all time, and how did they affect the global economy? Click ahead for the list.

By Paul Toscano
Posted 15 Mar 2011

Source: Insurance Information Institute | Photo: Sankei Archive | Getty Images