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NEW YORK -- Natural catastrophes caused an estimated $8.3 billion in insured property damage during the first nine months of this year, according to the Insurance Services Office Inc.'s Property Claim Services unit.

The $8.3 billion loss compares with $2.35 billion in insured catastrophe losses during the same period of 1997.

In fact, catastrophe-related insured property damage of $3.66 billion in the third quarter alone surpassed last year's total of $2.6 billion.

More than two-thirds of 1998's third-quarter losses arose from Hurricane Georges, which caused $2.5 billion in damage in four Southern states and Puerto Rico in late September (BI, Oct. 12).

The hurricane played a key role in making July-September 1998 the third-costliest third quarter on record. It was surpassed only by the same period in 1992 -- when hurricanes Andrew and Iniki bore most of the blame for pushing the insured property damage total to $17.4 billion -- and the third quarter of 1989, when Hurricane Hugo bore most of the responsibility for a $4.4 billion total.