While the Lloyd's market is holding on to its hat in anticipation of another active hurricane season, the less predictable, but equally damaging, event of an earthquake is looming over the industry with worrying implications.

The worst hurricane season on record left the worldwide market in a vulnerable state with estimated losses of £2.8bn.

With an 80% chance of an above average hurricane season this year and US geologists predicting a 62% probability of at least one earthquake of 6.7 magnitude or greater between 2003 and 2032, how would the market cope if 2006 bore not just another bout of hurricanes but an earthquake too?

As the Lloyd's market asks itself "could this be the year for a big earthquake" the feeling among insurers is quite clear - the combination of Mother Nature's worst would certainly damage the industry and severely dent the bottom line.

But the insurance industry has come a long way since prominent Lloyd's underwriter Cuthbert Heath instructed his San Francisco agent to "pay all claims".

The dawn of earthquake frameworks and risk management capabilities, and the increased role of reinsurance in catastrophe insurance, coupled with a new era in engineering and seismology, may just be the industry's saving grace.

Few in the market actually fear bankruptcy, considering that only 20% of US house-holders have earthquake cover, but there would almost certainly be losses.

As one senior Lloyd's figure puts it: "Let's just say, it would hurt, there is only so much you can take on the chin."