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Heartbreaking & Devastating Camp Fire Was World's Costliest Catastrophe of 2018


Noah Berger / AFP / Getty Images

In terms of natural disasters, 2018 was a really bad year. Communities in the United States and around the world were devastated by record-breaking wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and other catastrophes.

Lamentably, these weather and geophysical events caused 10,400 human deaths and $160 billion in estimated damages last year, reinsurance company Munich Re said on Tuesday.


The deadliest disaster of 2018 was the horrific earthquake-tsunami combo that struck the Indonesian city of Palu in September, where 2,100 lives perished, according to the German firm.

The year's top three most expensive natural disasters all occurred in the U.S. The Camp Fire—the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history—topped Munich Re's list with overall losses of $16.5 billion and insured losses of $12.5 billion. Eighty-six people died and thousands of homes and buildings were incinerated during the November fire in Butte County.

Hurricanes Michael ($16 billion) and Florence ($14 billion) round out the top three. Florence in September and Michael in October were part of an unusually active 2018 Atlantic hurricane season.

In fourth place on this dubious list is Typhoon Jebi, which struck Japan and Taiwan in September, and cost $12.5 billion; and in fifth place is Japan's historic flooding-landslide events in July and cost $9.5 billion, USA TODAY reported from the German analysis.

What's even more daunting, experts say these disasters will become more severe as temperatures keep rising around the planet.

"Our data shows that the losses from wildfires in California have risen dramatically in recent years," Ernst Rauch, head of Climate and Geosciences at Munich Re, said in a press release. "At the same time, we have experienced a significant increase in hot, dry summers, which has been a major factor in the formation of wildfires. Many scientists see a link between these developments and advancing climate change."

While the 2018 sum total of $160 billion is much lower than 2017's extremely high losses of $350 billion caused mostly by hurricane damages, it is above the 30-year average of $140 billion, Munich Re said. About half of 2018's losses were insured.

"2018 saw several major natural catastrophes with high insured losses," Munich Re board member Torsten Jeworrek said in the press release. "These included the unusual phenomenon of severe tropical cyclones occurring both in the U.S. and Japan while autumn wildfires devastated parts of California. Such massive wildfires appear to be occurring more frequently as a result of climate change."

Jeworrek continued, "Action is urgently needed on building codes and land use to help prevent losses. Given the greater frequency of unusual loss events and the possible links between them, insurers need to examine whether the events of 2018 were already on their models' radar or whether they need to realign their risk management and underwriting strategies."

In November, the U.S. government released a daunting report that warned climate change could kill thousands of Americans each year and slash the GDP by more than 10 percent by 2100.

President Donald Trump infamously dismissed his own government's study, saying "I don't believe it."

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