Earthquake damage up to $34 billion: US firm - 2ndlead

WASHINGTON, March 13, 2011 (AFP) - The massive earthquake that struck Japan will exact a massive economic toll estimated at between $14.5 billion and $34.6 billion, a leading risk analysis firm said Sunday.

AIR Worldwide (AIR) said its catastrophe modeling showed that property losses from Friday's disaster is preliminary, but estimates insured property losses likely will be "between 14.5 billion USD and 34.6 billion USD."

"Search and rescue efforts are still underway and damage assessment has only just begun, while considerable uncertainty still remains in the parameters that define the event," the company said in a statement.

The company said the AIR Earthquake Model for Japan does not account for the effects of tsunami, which, when calculated, will result in a "significant" increase in the damage estimate.

"AIR's loss estimates reflect insured shake and fire-following damage to onshore residential and commercial buildings and contents, and to properties in AIR's agricultural line of business," the company's statement said.

"Many of the properties destroyed by the tsunami first sustained damage from ground shaking and fire, as witnessed by videos of tsunami waves sweeping along entire buildings ablaze," said AIR.

The Boston, Massachusetts-based company added that it at a later time will issue an independent estimate for loss from the tsunami and provide a loss estimate "that avoids double-counting in the affected areas."

AIR is one of the leaders of risk modeling software and consulting services, providing risk assessment from natural catastrophes and terrorism in more than 50 countries.