* Fitch estimates claims at 100-200 mln euros
* Little higher value property in affected towns - analyst
* Less than 1 pct of 33 mln homes have private quake coverage
MILAN, Aug 26 (Reuters) - The powerful earthquake that struck central Italy on Wednesday will not generate heavy losses for insurers, raising again the question of compulsory insurance in one of Europe’s most disaster-impacted countries, experts said.
Despite living in one of the most quake-prone nations in the world, Italians are chronically underinsured for disasters, meaning the state, one of Europe’s most indebted, will be left to cover the bulk of earthquake damage and reconstruction costs.
The 6.2 magnitude earthquake, which killed at least 267 people, laid waste to a string of mountain towns and villages east of Rome, buckling roads and bridges.
The government has yet to give an estimate of damages but Infrastructure Minister Graziano Delrio said on Friday he did not think costs would reach the 14 billion euros ($16 billion) earmarked to cover reconstruction work following the quake that devastated the nearby city of L’Aquila in 2009.
“There is little higher value property in the towns and villages affected ... which will limit insurance losses, as residential properties are generally uninsured for earthquake,” said Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at risk modelling specialist RMS.
Industry association ANIA estimates less than 1 percent of 33 million homes have private quake coverage. It also says that two-thirds of Italy’s municipalities are in earthquake zones.
The exposure of Italy’s biggest insurer Assicurazioni Generali, which saw claims of more than 100 million euros after the L’Aquila quake, could be around 20 million euros, a source said.
Rival UnipolSai has said its exposure was limited.
On Friday Fitch Ratings said Italian insurers would feel limited impact with claims estimated at 100 million to 200 million euros.
BEARING THE BURDEN
According to the national engineers association, Rome has had to set aside around 120 billion euros since 1968 to cover damages in seven big earthquakes.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has pledged to rebuild the houses shattered by the quake and renew efforts to bolster Italy’s flimsy defences against earthquakes.
Compulsory insurance schemes were discussed by the government of the then prime minister, Mario Monti, in 2012 and the Renzi administration has also recently studied the idea.
But both came to nought as costs and complexity weighed.
Many of the most vulnerable municipalities are far from the big cities and home mainly to legions of elderly Italians living on minimal pensions who could ill afford to take out insurance.
Another problem is that around two thirds of properties in quake zones have no anti-seismic protection, ANIA says. Heavily indebted Italy has precious little room to offer tax breaks and enticements to the private sector to bring buildings up to proper safety standards.
Italy’s employers association Confindustria has estimated it would cost some 360 billion euros to upgrade building stock.
“I’ve been in this business for 30 years and they’ve been talking about it as long as I can remember. What’s lacking is the political will,” said Luca Franzi, president of insurance broker association AIBA. ($1 = 0.8857 euros) (Additional reporting by Carolyn Cohn; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Susan Thomas)
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