||We measure the longer-term effect of a major earthquake on the local economy, using night-time light intensity, and focus on the role of insurance payments for damaged residential property in the recovery process. The destructive Canterbury Earthquake Sequence (2010–2011) in New Zealand is our case study. Uniquely, for this event, >95% of residential housing units were covered by insurance and almost all incurred some damage. However, insurance payments were staggered over 5 years, enabling us to identify their local impact on recovery. We find that night-time luminosity can capture the process of recovery; and that insurance payments contributed significantly to the process of local economic recovery after the earthquake. Cash settlement of claims was no more effective than insurance-managed repairs in generating local recovery. Notably, delayed payments were less affective in assisting recovery; this suggests an important role for the regulator in making sure insurance payments are made promptly after disaster events.