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New Zealand quake heads long list of November catastrophes

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Chicago-based Impact Forecasting, Aon Benfield’s catastrophe model development team, said Wednesday that the earthquake that struck New Zealand’s South Island last month would likely cause $705 million to $3.5 billion in insured losses.  

Other catastrophes to strike last month included hailstorms in Australia and the United States, wildfires in Tennessee and Israel, a 5.0-magnitude quake in Oklahoma and a late-season tornado outbreak, according to the report. 

The 7.8-magnitude New Zealand earthquake and several large aftershocks struck the country’s South Island early on the morning of November 13, killing two people and injuring dozens.  

Among the worst affected communities were the towns of Kaikoura and Waiau, which were located nearest the epicenter. 

A preliminary statement from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand estimated that damage would range between $2.1 billion to $5.7 billion. The New Zealand Earthquake Commission has received at least 15,075 claims. 

Separately, the monthly recap said a series of severe thunderstorms producing golf ball-sized hail swept across South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. The Insurance Council of Australia said 28,146 claims had been filed with payouts totaling $144 million.  

The recap also said significant wildfires – many set by arsonists – swept across parts of Israel, causing extensive damage to homes, injuring at least 137 people, and causing $520 million in total economic losses. 

Large hail and damaging winds hit Texas and New Mexico in November resulting in insurance losses approaching $300 million. 

In the second half of November, the recap said, an outbreak of wildfires caused catastrophic damage to areas of eastern Tennessee, killing 14 people and injuring 134 others.  

The worst fire, Chimney Tops 2, the report said, damaged or destroyed more than 1,750 structures in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and was cited as the worst wildfire in Tennessee in more than 100 years, with an economic cost expected to significantly surpass $100 million. 

In addition, a 5.0 earthquake struck northern Oklahoma on November 6 one mile west of Cushing, resulting in significant damage to around 50 buildings.  

A broad storm system spawned an outbreak of severe weather and heavy snow across the United States from November 26 to December 1, the recap said, killing at least five people.  

The storm initially brought very heavy snow across the Rockies and northern Plains before the main focus turned to the Southeast and Midwest as a late-season tornado outbreak occurred. 

Dozens of confirmed tornadoes touched down, with the worst damage noted in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.