Facts + Statistics: Earthquakes and tsunamis

World

2018 Earthquakes: On September 5 an earthquake struck Hokkaido, Japan which left dozens dead and caused more than $1.7 billion in damage, according to Aon. On June 17 another strong earthquake impacted Osaka Japan, resulting in insured losses of at least $935 million.

In the United States, a magnitude 7.0 tremor struck near Anchorage, Alaska on November 30. losses totaled more than $150 million.

2017 Earthquakes: On September 19 a powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake jolted Mexico City and neighboring states, killing at least 216 people and leaving many trapped under collapsed buildings. Munich Re estimates the quake resulted in $2 billion in insured losses. A little more than a week previously, Mexico was hit by a magnitude 8.1 earthquake centered off its southern coast that killed at least 90 people.

2016 Earthquakes: A series of earthquakes in Japan on April 14 to April 16 was the costliest earthquake event in 2016, according to Munich Re. Those quakes, of 6.5 and 7.3 magnitude, caused $32 billion in overall losses and $6.2 billion in insured losses. 205 people lost their lives in the quakes.

In New Zealand, a 7.8 magnitude quake on November 13 killed two people and caused $3.9 billion in overall losses, and $2.1 billion in insured losses, ranking second in terms of losses in 2016, according to Munich Re. On April 16, 2016 a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Ecuador. The quake caused 673 fatalities, more than 2,500 injuries and widespread damage in two provinces. It was the deadliest quake world-wide in 2016 and resulted in economic losses of $4 billion.

2011 Earthquakes: On March 11, 2011 a devastating tsunami hit the coast of northeast Japan, triggered by a powerful earthquake approximately 80 miles offshore. The quake and tsunami caused $40 billion in insured damages, according to Munich Re. Also, early in 2011 a powerful earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand, resulting in $16.5 billion in insured damages. The Japan and New Zealand quakes are among the 10 costliest world earthquakes and tsunamis, based on insured damages, according to Munich Re (see table).

Top 10 Costliest World Earthquakes And Tsunamis By Insured Losses, 1980-2018 (1)

(US$ millions)

      Losses when occurred  
Rank Date Location Overall Insured (2) Fatalities
1 Mar. 11, 2011 Japan: Aomori, Chiba, Fukushima, lbaraki, lwate,
Miyagi, Tochigi, Tokyo, Yamagata. Includes tsunami.
$210,000 $40,000 15,880
2 Feb. 22, 2011 New Zealand: Canterbury, Christchurch, Lyttelton 24,000 16,500 185
3 Jan. 17, 1994 USA (CA): Northridge, Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley,
Ventura, Orange
44,000 15,300 61
4 Feb. 27, 2010 Chile: Concepcion, Metropolitana, Rancagua, Talca,
Temuco, Valparaiso. Includes tsunami.
30,000 8,000 520
5 Sep. 4, 2010 New Zealand: Canterbury, Christchurch, Avonside, Omihi,
Timaru, Kaiapoi, Lyttelton
10,000 7,400 0
6 Apr. 14-16, 2016 Japan: Kumamoto, Aso, Chuo Ward, Mashiki, Minamiaso,
Oita, Miyazaki, Fukuoka, Yamaguchi
32,000 6,500 205
7 Jan. 17, 1995 Japan: Hyogo, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto 100,000 3,000 6,430
8 Nov. 13, 2016 New Zealand: Canterbury, Kaikoura, Waiau,
Wellington, Marlborough, Picton
3,900 2,100 2
9 Jun. 13, 2011 New Zealand: Canterbury, Christchurch, Lyttelton 2,700 2,100 1
10 Sep. 19, 2017 Mexico: Puebla, Morelos, Greater Mexico City 6,000 2,000 369

(1) Data through 2018 as of January 2020. Ranked on insured losses when occurred. Updated by the Insurance Information Institute using data from Munich Re's Relevant geophysical events worldwide 1980-2018.
(2) Based on property losses including, if applicable, agricultural, offshore, marine, aviation and National Flood Insurance Program losses in the United States and may differ from data shown elsewhere.

Source: © 2020 Munich Re, Geo Risks Research; Wikipedia.

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United States

The 1994 Northridge quake was the costliest U.S. earthquake on record, causing $15.3 billion in insured damages when it occurred ($26.9 billion in 2019 dollars) according to Munich Re. It ranks as the eighth costliest U.S. disaster, based on insured property losses (in 2019 dollars). Six of the costliest U.S. quakes from 1980 to 2019, based on inflation-adjusted insured losses, were in California.

In 2020 the Alaska Peninsula was struck by a 7.5-magnitude quake on October 19 but no damage was reported. The Peninsula was earlier rocked by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake on July 22 in the ocean near Perryville. No damage was reported. Two states experienced 6.5-magnitude quakes—Challis, Idaho and in the Monte Cristo mountain range in Nevada. Although there were no losses from either quake, the Nevada quake caused 6,500 aftershocks. Four were magnitude 5.0 or greater. On May 2, a 5.4-magnitude quake hit Tallaboa, Puerto Rico, causing minor damage. On August 9, a 5.1-magnitude quake struck North Carolina, causing minor property damage in Sparta. In August a swarm of earthquakes beneath the Salton Sea began on August 10. The U.S. Geological Survey reported a peak of 54 tremors on August 10, with a mainshock of 4.6 magnitude.

In 2019, the sparsely populated Ridgecrest City section of California was struck by a pair of significant earthquakes. On July 4 a 6.4-magnitude “foreshock” earthquake hit the area, followed by a stronger 7.1-magnitude quake the following day, along with a number of aftershocks. The 7.1 quake was the largest to hit the state in 20 years. According to Karen Clark and Co., insured losses from the quakes are estimated to total less than $40 million.

In 2018 a large 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Kodiak Island, Alaska on January 23. No significant damage was reported from the quake or no damage from the small tsunami that was observed in a handful of Alaska cities, according to the United States National Tsunami Warning Center. On May 4 a 6.9 magnitude quake struck the Big Island of Hawaii, caused by the eruption of Mount Kilauea. No significant damage was reported. As the eruption continued, a 5.5 magnitude earthquake was recorded on June 3. The eruption caused about 500 quakes in one day, and many aftershocks. On November 30 a 7.0 magnitude quake struck about 8 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska. It caused $150 million in insured losses but no fatalities were reported, according to Aon. There were about 2,000 aftershocks in the state in the days following the quake. The city’s major seismic improvements put into place after a 1964 magnitude 9.2 quake are credited for the limited damage from the November 2019 quake. The 1964 quake was the largest magnitude in the nation.

Top 10 Costliest U.S. Earthquakes By Inflation-Adjusted Insured Losses (1)

($ millions)

        Insured losses (2)  
Rank Date Location Overall losses
when occurred
Dollars when
occurred
In 2019
dollars (3)
Fatalities
1 Jan. 17, 1994 California: Northridge, Los Angeles,
San Fernando Valley, Ventura, Orange
$44,000 $15,300 $26,850 61
2 Apr. 18, 1906 California: San Francisco, Santa Rosa, San Jose 525 180 4,713 (4) 3,000
3 Oct. 17, 1989 California: Loma Prieta, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Silicon Valley 10,000 960 1,961 68
4 Feb. 28, 2001 Washington: Olympia, Seattle, Tacoma; Oregon 2,000 300 438 1
5 Oct. 1, 1987 California: Los Angeles County, Whittier 360 75 167 8
6 Aug. 24, 2014 California: Napa, Vallejo, Solano, Sonoma,
American Canyon
700 150 162 1
7 Nov. 30, 2018 Alaska: Anchorage, Wasilla, Palmer, Tok, Valdez 150 130 132 0
8 Apr. 4, 2010 California: San Diego, Calexico, El Centro,
Los Angeles, Imperial; Arizona: Phoenix, Yuma
150 100 118 0
9 Oct. 15, 2006 Hawaii: Big Island, Kailua Kona, Oahu, Honolulu 200 50 64 0
10 Aug. 23, 2011 Virginia: Mineral, Richmond; DC;
New York: New York; Maryland: Baltimore
150 50 57 0

(1) Costliest U.S. earthquakes occurring from 1980 to 2019, based on insured losses when occurred. Also includes the 1906 San Francisco, California, earthquake, for which reliable insured losses are available.
(2) Based on property losses including, if applicable, agricultural, offshore, marine, aviation and National Flood Insurance Program losses and may differ from data shown elsewhere.
(3) Inflation-adjusted to 2019 dollars by the Insurance Information Institute using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Inflation Calculator.
(4) Inflation-adjusted to 2019 dollars based on 1913 Bureau of Labor Statistics data (earliest year available).

Source: © 2020 Munich Re, NatCatSERVICE; U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; Insurance Information Institute.

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The previous chart ranks historic earthquakes based on their total insured property losses, adjusted for inflation. The chart below measures the estimated impact of historical quakes based on current exposures. The analysis of exposures as of end-2016 is based on AIR Worldwide's U.S. earthquake model. It makes use of the firm's property exposure database and takes into account the current number and value of exposed properties.

Estimated Insured Losses For The Top 10 Historical Earthquakes Based On Current Exposures (1)

($ billions)

Rank Date Location Magnitude 2017 insured loss
(current exposures)
1 1906 San Francisco, CA 7.8 $71
2 1811-1812 New Madrid, MO 7.7 59
3 1700 Cascadia Subduction Zone, WA, OR, CA 9.0 47
4 1838 San Francisco, CA 7.4 31
5 1886 Charleston, SC 7.3 30
6 1994 Northridge, CA 6.7 15
7 1868 Hayward, CA 7.0 15
8 1812 Wrightwood, CA 7.5 12
9 1857 Fort Tejon, CA 7.9 8
10 1989 Loma Prieta, CA 6.9 4

(1) Modeled loss to property, contents, business interruption and additional living expenses for residential, mobile home, commercial and auto exposures as of December 31, 2016. Losses include demand surge and fire following earthquake and account for tsunami, liquefaction and landslide. Policy conditions and earthquake insurance take-up rates are based on estimates by state insurance departments and client claims data. The model reflects recent updates to seismic and ground motion information as well as updated building characteristics of insured properties.

Source: AIR Worldwide Corporation.

A 2018 study by CoreLogic examines the financial implications of a hypothetical earthquake along the Hayward fault in the San Francisco East Bay area of California near the site of the 1868 Hayward California quake shown in the chart above. Including a series of aftershocks, such an event would lead to total damage of private property estimated at $170 billion, with only $30 billion recovered from homeowners insurance. CoreLogic explains that the difference between the total losses figure and the amount recovered is impacted by the lack of insurance for most properties in the state and to a smaller degree by the effect of insurance deductibles and limits.

Top 10 Writers Of Earthquake Insurance By Direct Premiums Written, 2019

($000)

Rank Group/company Direct premiums written (1) Market share (2)
1 California Earthquake Authority $820,924 22.8%
2 State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance 275,793 7.7
3 Zurich Insurance Group 235,140 6.5
4 Chubb Ltd. 173,210 4.8
5 Travelers Companies Inc. 139,969 3.9
6 Palomar Specialty Insurance Co. 139,639 3.9
7 American International Group (AIG) 128,798 3.6
8 AXA 104,071 2.9
9 GeoVera Insurance Group 103,954 2.9
10 Sompo Holdings Inc. 97,635 2.7

(1) Before reinsurance transactions, includes state funds.
(2) Based on U.S. total, includes territories.

Source: NAIC data, sourced from S&P Global Market Intelligence, Insurance Information Institute.

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Earthquake insurance

Standard homeowners, renters and business insurance policies do not cover damage from earthquakes. Coverage is available either in the form of an endorsement or as a separate policy. Earthquake insurance provides protection from the shaking and cracking that can destroy buildings and personal possessions. Coverage for other kinds of damage that may result from earthquakes, such as fire and water damage due to burst gas and water pipes, is provided by standard home and business insurance policies. Earthquake coverage is available mostly from private insurance companies. In California homeowners can also get coverage from the California Earthquake Authority (CEA), a privately funded, publicly managed organization. Only about 14 percent of California homeowners had earthquake coverage in July 2020, according to the CEA.

Twenty-three percent of homeowners who had homeowners insurance responding to the 2020 Triple-I Consumer Poll said they had earthquake insurance, up from 15 percent in 2018. Homeowners in the West were most likely to have earthquake insurance, with 28 percent saying they had the coverage, followed by the South at 25 percent; the Northeast at 21 percent; and the Midwest at 16 percent. See the Poll report for details.

Earthquake Insurance, Direct Premiums Written By State, 2018 (1)

($000)

Rank State Direct premiums written ($000)
1 California $1,872,381
2 Washington 198,103
3 Missouri 100,269
4 Oregon 94,567
5 Tennessee 83,493
6 Illinois 71,278
7 Utah 53,082
8 New York 50,715
9 Kentucky 50,520
10 South Carolina 46,369
11 Indiana 40,769
12 Arkansas 34,541
13 Texas 33,495
14 Ohio 33,002
15 Florida 28,070
16 Alaska 27,951
17 Massachusetts 25,507
18 New Jersey 25,185
19 Nevada 23,831
20 Oklahoma 19,932
21 Virginia 19,490
22 Pennsylvania 17,205
23 Mississippi 16,551
24 Georgia 16,351
25 Hawaii 12,237
26 North Carolina 11,638
27 Maryland 11,607
28 Colorado 10,049
29 Arizona 8,860
30 Michigan 8,387
31 Louisiana 8,046
32 Kansas 7,698
33 Alabama 7,351
34 Connecticut 6,940
35 Montana 5,875
36 Minnesota 4,709
37 Wisconsin 4,317
38 Iowa 4,113
39 Wyoming 3,825
40 Idaho 3,628
41 D.C. 3,212
42 New Hampshire 2,957
43 Rhode Island 2,522
44 Nebraska 2,260
45 New Mexico 2,208
46 Maine 1,919
47 Delaware 1,373
48 West Virginia 1,315
49 Vermont 1,059
50 North Dakota 751
51 South Dakota 442
  United States $3,121,953

(1) Includes the California Earthquake Authority, a state fund.

Source: NAIC data, sourced from S&P Global Market Intelligence, Insurance Information Institute.

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  • Earthquake insurance direct premiums written rose 9.2 percent to $3.1 billion in 2018 from $2.9 billion in 2017.
  • California had the largest amount of earthquake premiums in 2018, at $1.9 billion, accounting for 60.0 percent of U.S. earthquake insurance premiums written. This figure includes the state-run California Earthquake Authority, the largest provider of earthquake insurance in California. The next highest ranking states were Washington state (6.4 percent of premiums) and Missouri (3.2 percent, Oregon (3.0 percent) and Tennessee (2.7 percent).

Earthquake Insurance, 2010-2019

($000)

Year Net premiums written (1) Annual percent change Combined ratio (2) Annual point change (3)
2010 $1,443,598 12.0% 41.4 5.1 pts.
2011 1,467,372 1.6 55.8 14.4
2012 1,593,451 8.6 36.3 -19.5
2013 1,586,985 -0.4 30.3 -6.0
2014 1,641,847 3.5 34.0 3.7
2015 1,649,753 0.5 28.1 -5.8
2016 1,535,142 -6.9 34.4 6.2
2017 1,511,543 -1.5 42.3 8.0
2018 1,827,543 20.9 44.3 2.0
2019 1,982,730 8.5 29.0 -15.4

(1) After reinsurance transactions, excludes state funds, such as the California Earthquake Authority, a not-for-profit, privately funded, publicly managed organization that provides coverage in California.
(2) After dividends to policyholders. A drop in the combined ratio represents an improvement; an increase represents a deterioration.
(3) Calculated from unrounded numbers.

Source: NAIC data, sourced from S&P Global Market Intelligence, Insurance Information Institute.

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