New Zealand’s deadliest earthquake in eight decades may be the costliest natural disaster for insurers since 2008.Insured losses from yesterday’s temblor may be $12 billion, Michael Huttner, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co., said in a note to clients. That would be the most expensive calamity since the $19.9 billion loss from Hurricane Ike, which struck the U.S. in 2008, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a New York-based trade group.

The 6.3-magnitude quake killed at least 75 people, toppled buildings and trapped workers in Christchurch, New Zealand’s second-largest city. It followed a 7.0-magnitude temblor that shook the city of 400,000 people on Sept. 4, costing insurers an estimated $6 billion, according to Huttner.

“Even buildings which are still standing may have hidden structural damage and could then need to be rebuilt,” he said in the note. “This is a very conservative assumption on our part and in support of this we note that all reinsurers revised” cost estimates for the previous earthquake.

The scale of yesterday’s quake remains unknown and will be treated as a separate event, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said in a press conference from Wellington today.“We think there may be another 100,000 claims,” Key said. “There were 180,000 claims I think in the first earthquake. We know that different properties have been affected. Some properties that had no impact in the last earthquake have been severely damaged.”

Source: Bloomberg