The Northridge, CA, Earthquake 20 Years After: Facts, Figures and Perspectives

January 10, 2014
Northridge at 20

Damaged portion of the Golden State Freeway at Gavin Canyon, January 17, 1994.

Source: FEMA/Wikipedia
Affecting much of southern California, the Northridge, California, earthquake of January 17, 1994 was the costliest earthquake in U.S. history in terms of insured losses (both actual and adjusted for inflation). The event, which triggered the fastest ground acceleration rates (intensity of shaking) ever recorded up to that time, caused 57 fatalities, approximately 8,800 injuries, and more than $20 billion dollars in property losses (2013 USD) to buildings and public infrastructure.
As 20 years have passed since the Northridge earthquake, numerous advances have changed how we deal with seismic activity in developed areas. Advances in civil and structural engineering, as well as emergency preparedness and rescue efforts have helped to mitigate the human toll of earthquakes. More effective communications, and widespread use of digital media and the Internet in particular, have fostered greater awareness of earthquake safety, and have changed how people share and consume information before, during and after catastrophes. Yet, in spite of these advances (or maybe because of them), fewer than 10 percent of California property and business owners today opt to purchase earthquake insurance coverage.
On the anniversary of the Northridge earthquake, the Insurance Information Institute offers resources, facts and statistics on earthquakes and insurance.

Top 10 Costliest World Earthquakes And Tsunamis By Insured Losses, 1980-2015 (1)

($ 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 U.S. (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 Jan. 17, 1995 Japan: Hyogo, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto 100,000 3,000 6,430
7 Jun. 13, 2011 New Zealand: Canterbury, Christchurch, Lyttelton 2,700 2,100 1
8 May 20 and May 29, 2012 Italy: Emilia-Romagna, San Felice del Panaro, Cavezzo, Rovereto di Novi, Carpi, Concordia. Series of earthquakes. 16,000 1,600 18
9 Dec. 26, 2004 Sri Lanka: Indonesia, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives, Malaysia. Includes tsunami. 10,000 1,000 220,000
10 Oct. 17, 1989 U.S. (CA): Loma Prieta, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Silicon Valley 10,000 960 68

(1) As of March 2016. Ranked on insured losses when occurred.
(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: © 2016 Munich Re, Geo Risks Research, NatCatSERVICE.

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