The Great Tohoku Earthquake and the resulting tsunamis and aftershocks may lead to life and health insurance claims with a value equivalent to about $3.7 billion to $5 billion.

Analysts at Moody’s Investors Service, New York, have published that estimate in a report on the effects of series of disasters that struck Japan starting March 11.

“Life insurers with exposure to the region will be impacted by increased death claims, higher accident and health benefits, and lower revenues,” Moody’s says.

But the insured value of the claims resulting from the disasters – 300 billion yen to 400 billion yen – should be manageable relative to the capital and, in most cases, the earnings capacity, of the life insurers operating in Japan, Moody’s says.

Japan’s National Police Agency has confirmed that more than 8,800 people died as a result of the disasters, and that more than 12,000 are missing.

Tens of thousands of survivors are reported to be living in shelters or other places with inadequate food, water, medicine and heat, and some survivors and others are reporting on Twitter that some of the survivors are suffering from influenza-like illnesses.

The earthquakes and tsunamis also have caused severe damage to at least one Japanese nuclear power plant.

“The situation in Japan remains uncertain and fluid,” Moody’s analysts say. “The wild card in all of this is the nuclear story which is unfolding. Should severe meltdown occur and the effects be felt as far away as Tokyo for an extended period of time, the economic impact to life insurers in terms of adverse business and financial impact is much more material. Under the scenario of severe radioactive release,

it is our view that companies with a significant in-force of [accident and health] policies would incur meaningful losses right away, with life insurance claims occurring more gradually and escalating over the coming years.”

In Japan, “with very minor exceptions, policies do not contain nuclear, biological, or radiological exclusions,” the analysts say.

But, assuming Japan can avoid having radioactive material affect a large area of Japan for an extended period, the life and health companies that Moody’s rates in Japan should get through the disasters with their ratings largely intact, the analysts say.

Most of the companies geographically well diversified, and few have large operations in the most heavily affected areas, the analysts say.

“Employees of the insurers for the most part are safe and working, although there have been some business disruptions,” the analysts say.

The Moody’s analysts are assuming that the total number of deaths in Japan will rise to about 20,000; that the average policy size in force will be the equivalent of about $200,000, including both the death benefit and an accidental death benefit rider; and that the average policy size is about the same at most private insurers.

If those assumptions are correct, life insurers in Japan could face the equivalent of about $2.5 billion in insured death claims and about $2 billion in accident, health and supplemental health claims, the analysts estimate.

The earthquakes and tsunamis also have caused short-term turmoil for insurers’ investment portfolios, but values should recover, and the insurers have ample liquidity, the analysts say.

In other Japan news:

- New York Life Insurance Company, New York, is donating $100,000 to the American Red Cross to support relief efforts in Japan.

- A foundation affiliated with WellPoint Inc., Indianapolis (NYSE:WLP), is donating $50,000 to relief efforts through AmeriCares. The foundation will help pay for medicine, medical supplies and aid for the survivors.

Other Japan coverage from National Underwriter Life & Health: