LONDON, May 30 (Reuters) - Insurers could have to pay out as much as 700 million euros ($880 million) as a result of earthquakes that hit northern Italy this month, risk-modelling agency Eqecat said on Wednesday.
The quake on May 20 and two severe aftershocks nine days later will cost the insurance industry between 300 million euros and 700 million euros, Eqecat said.
Eqecat's initial estimate, calculated before the aftershocks on Tuesday, was for an insured loss of between 100 million and 200 million euros.
More than 20 people were killed by the tremors, which damaged commercial premises, historic buildings and private housing across the Emilia Romagna region, making thousands homeless.
Eqecat, which calculates the impact of natural disasters based on the level of insurance coverage in the affected area, said few buildings in Emilia-Romagna had been designed to withstand earthquakes as severe tremors are rare in the region.
Early loss estimates for earthquakes are frequently revised higher as structural damage to buildings that is not immediately apparent emerges over time.
This year has been benign for insurers so far thanks to a dearth of costly natural catastrophes.
Last year was the industry's second-costliest catastrophe year on record, with disasters including Japan's Tohoku earthquake generating claims of $116 billion euros, according to reinsurer Swiss Re. ($1=0.7977 euros) (Reporting by Myles Neligan; Editing by Mike Nesbit)