Insurers in the US faced a further battering this week as Hurricane Frances struck Florida. Current estimates from catastrophic risk consultants Risk Management Solutions placed insured losses between $3bn and $6bn (£1.7bn and £3.4bn).

Hurricane Frances, a category two storm, hit eastern Florida on Sunday, before reaching the north of the state, the Florida Panhandle, on Monday.

Fitch Ratings said that while it was too early to accurately assess the damage, it is likely to be a material loss to the industry, and a major loss to primary insurance companies. Fitch said the scale of the losses for reinsurance companies was not yet clear.

Tropical Storm Risk (TSR) said Frances was wider and slower than Charley, meaning it had the potential to cause greater damage.

TSR lead scientist Mark Saunders said the current storm activity bore out TSR's prediction of an above average Atlantic hurricane season for 2004.

Only three years since 1950 have seen more than one major hurricane make landfall on the US mainland.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Thomas Cook Airlines cancelled transatlantic flights, stranding thousands of holidaymakers on both sides of the ocean and giving rise to travel-related claims.

More bad news could be on the way with Hurricane Ivan, the ninth tropical storm and fourth hurricane of the 2004 season, due to hit the Caribbean this week, and possibly Florida this weekend.

But the bad news for insurers could be good news for reinsurers, with renewal negotiations set to begin next week in Monte Carlo and the recent hurricane activity helping to hold reinsurance rates up.