Earthquakes

The costliest U.S. earthquake, the 1994 Northridge quake, caused $15.3 billion in insured damages when it occurred (about $24 billion in 2013 dollars). It ranks as the fifth-costliest U.S. disaster, based on insured property losses (in 2012 dollars), topped only by Hurricane Katrina, the attacks on the World Trade Center, Hurricane Andrew and Superstorm Sandy. Six of the costliest U.S. quakes, based on insured losses, were in California, according to Munich Re. There were six earthquakes in the United States in 2013 which caused only minor damage, according to Munich Re.

THE TEN MOST COSTLY U.S. EARTHQUAKES BY INFLATION-ADJUSTED INSURED LOSSES (1)

($ millions)

        Insured losses (2)  
Rank Date Location Overall losses when occurred When occurred In 2013 dollars (3) Fatalities
1 Jan. 17, 1994 California: Northridge, Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley, Ventura, Orange $44,000 $15,300 $24,050 61
2 Apr. 18, 1906 California: San Francisco, Santa Rosa, San Jose 524 180 4,240 (4) 3,000
3 Oct. 17, 1989 California: Loma Prieta, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Silicon Valley 10,000 960 1,800 68
4 Feb. 28, 2001 Washington: Olympia, Seattle, Tacoma; Oregon 2,000 300 395 1
5 Mar. 27-28, 1964 Alaska: Anchorage, Kodiak Island, Seward, Valdez, Portage, Whittier, Cordova, Homer, Seldovia; Hawaii; includes tsunami 540 45 340 131
6 Feb. 9, 1971 California: San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles 553 35 200 65
7 Oct. 1, 1987 California: Los Angeles, Whittier 360 75 155 8
8 Apr. 4, 2010 California: San Diego, Calexico, El Centro, Los Angeles, Imperial; Arizona: Phoenix, Yuma 150 100 105 NA
9 Sep. 3, 2000 California: Napa 80 50 68 NA
10 Jun. 28, 1992 California: San Bernardino 100 40 66 1

(1) Costliest U.S. earthquakes occurring from 1950 to 2013, based on insured losses when occurred. 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 in the United States and may differ from data shown elsewhere.
(3) Inflation-adjusted to 2013 dollars by Munich Re.
(4) Inflation-adjusted to 2013 dollars based on 1913 Bureau of Labor Statistics data (earliest year available).

NA=Data not available.

Source: © 2014 Munich Re, Geo Risks Research, NatCatSERVICE.

The previous chart ranks historic earthquakes based on their total insured property losses, adjusted for inflation. The chart below uses a computer model to measure the estimated impact of historical quakes according to current exposures. The analysis, conducted in 2012, 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 TEN HISTORICAL EARTHQUAKES BASED ON CURRENT EXPOSURES (1)

($ billions)

Rank Date Location Magnitude Insured loss
(current exposures)
1 Feb. 7, 1812 New Madrid, MO 7.7 $112
2 Apr. 18, 1906 San Francisco, CA 7.8 93
3 Aug. 31, 1886 Charleston, SC 7.3 44
4 Jun.  1, 1838 San Francisco, CA 7.4 30
5 Jan. 17, 1994 Northridge, CA 6.7 23
6 Oct. 21, 1868 Hayward, CA 7.0 23
7 Jan. 9, 1857 Fort Tejon, CA 7.9 8
8 Oct. 17, 1989 Loma Prieta, CA 6.3 7
9 Mar. 10, 1933 Long Beach, CA 6.4 5
10 Jul. 1, 1911 Calaveras, CA 6.4 4

(1) Modeled loss to property, contents, and business interruption and additional living expenses for residential, mobile home, commercial, and auto exposures as of December 31, 2011. Losses include demand surge and fire following earthquake. Policy conditions and earthquake insurance take-up rates are based on estimates by state insurance departments and client claims data.

Source: AIR Worldwide Corporation.