The Canterbury earthquake is the third most expensive event for insurers worldwide this year, the Insurance Council says.
Private insurers expect to pay out about $1.5 billion for damage in Canterbury over the next 12 months as a result of the 7.1 magnitude quake on 4 September.
Insurance Council chief executive Chris Ryan says the earthquake payout is in addition to the approximately $2 billion that private insurers would pay out in a typical year.
"There were storms in Europe worth about $3 billion and storms in North America worth about $2 billion," he said.
Mr Ryan says $1.5 billion is an initial estimate, and while it is already dramatically higher than insurers first thought it would be, there is an expectation it could rise further.
He says the positive side is that more than $1 billion will be re-invested into the Canterbury community.