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2017 catastrophes caused fewer deaths, but more economic damage

Though there were fewer disasters worldwide in 2017 than usual, and fewer lives were lost, private estimates say the economic damage of Hurricane Harvey exceeded that of Hurricane Katrina. This photo was taken on Big Pine Key, Fla., after Hurricane Irma struck.

Though there were fewer disasters worldwide in 2017 than usual, and fewer lives were lost, private estimates say the economic damage of Hurricane Harvey exceeded that of Hurricane Katrina. This photo was taken on Big Pine Key, Fla., after Hurricane Irma struck.

North America got pounded with natural disasters in 2017, but the rest of the world was spared more than usual, resulting in fewer deaths, the Associated Press reported; however, the economic damage from catastrophes rose.

In 2017 parts of the United States were on fire, underwater or lashed by hurricane winds. Mexico shook with back-to-back earthquakes, and the Caribbean got hit with a string of hurricanes.

Preliminary research shows that there were fewer disasters and deaths from catastrophes this year than on average, but the economic damage was much higher.

Disasters smacked big cities, which were more vulnerable because of increased development, economist and geophysicist Chuck Watson of the consulting firm Enki Research told the AP.

In a year when U.S. and Caribbean hurricanes set a record $215 billion in damage, according to insurance giant Munich Re, no one in the continental U.S. died from storm surge, which traditionally is the No. 1 killer during hurricanes.

Forecasters gave residents plenty of advance warning during a season in which storms set records for strength and duration.

“It’s certainly one of the worst hurricane seasons we’ve had,” National Weather Service director Louis Uccellini told the wire service.

The globe typically averages about 325 disasters a year, but this year’s total through November was less than 250, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the University of Louvain in Belgium.

Disasters kill about 30,000 people and affect about 215 million a year. This year’s estimated toll was lower — about 6,000 people killed and 75 million affected.

Experts say that was the result of a statistical quirk and better preparedness.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina estimated that economic damage from this year’s disasters, adjusted for inflation, was more than 40 percent higher than normal, mostly because of Harvey, Irma and Maria.

By many private measures, Harvey overtook Katrina as the costliest U.S. hurricane, but the weather service has not finished its calculations.

“We are building in the wrong places,” said Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina. “We are building in areas that are increasing in risks.”

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