GENEVA (AFP) - Catastrophes such as the huge earthquakes that struck Japan and New Zealand this year cost the world economy a record $350 billion (270 billion euros) and 30,000 lives, reinsurer Swiss Re said on Thursday. The quake that sparked the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in March caused the biggest impact with estimated total losses of at least $210 billion, the worlds number two reinsurer said. The figure surged from $226 billion costs in 2010 also due to the earthquake that devastated the city of Christchurch in New Zealand in February. This year was not the most expensive for the insurance industry however. Total insured losses from disasters was estimated at $108 billion more than double the 2010 figure of $48 billion but not exceeding the $123 billion paid out in 2005 when parts of the United States were battered by Hurricane Katrina. The 2011 figure would have been higher had Japan been better covered, Swiss Re said, with insured losses just a fraction of the total cost, at $35 billion. 2011 is going down as another year of very tragic and costly earthquakes, said chief economist Kurt Karl. Unfortunately earthquake insurance coverage is still quite low, even in some industrialised countries with high seismic risk, like Japan. So on top of people losing their loved ones, societies are faced with enormous financial losses that have to be borne by either corporations, relief organisations or governments and, ultimately, taxpayers. The firm estimated that 30,000 lives had been lost to catastrophes in the first 11 months of the year, most of them in Japan. The March disaster knocked out the Fukushima plants cooling system and tipped some of its reactors into meltdown, spewing radiation into the air, sea and food chain in the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Total losses from the New Zealand quake stood at $15 billion but most of this was covered by insurers, Swiss Re said. On top of the two quakes, severe flooding in Thailand and Australia this year triggered more than $10 billion in insurance claims. Two tornadoes in the US cost almost $14 billion in claims and the industry paid out nearly $5 billion in property damage following Hurricane Irene. In terms of catastrophe claims, 2011 ranks as the second costliest year in history for the insurance industry, Swiss Re said in a statement. Additional claims from the ongoing massive floods in Thailand or from winter storms which may yet hit Europe have the potential to bring figures for the full year even closer to the record claims of $123 billion experienced in 2005. That year hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita led to claims of more than $100 billion alone, Swiss Re said. Last month Swiss insurer Zurich Financial Services (ZFS) also described 2011 as the worst catastrophe year since 2005. Thai authorities said on Wednesday that the toll from the worst floods to hit the country in half a century had risen to more than 700. Monsoon rains in the south of the kingdom which began in late November have killed 10 people, in addition to 698 who have perished in central and northern provinces since the crisis began in July. More than 2,200 homes have been destroyed and almost 100,000 partially damaged, officials said.