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


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, 1980-2020 (1)

(US$ millions)

        Insured losses  
Rank Date Location Overall When occurred In 2020 dollars Fatalities
1 Mar. 11, 2011 Japan: Aomori, Chiba, Fukushima, lbaraki, lwate,
Miyagi, Tochigi, Tokyo, Yamagata. Includes tsunami.
$210,000 $40,000 $46,378 15,880
2 Feb. 22, 2011 New Zealand: Canterbury, Christchurch, Lyttelton 24,000 16,500 19,318 185
3 Jan. 17, 1994 USA (CA): Northridge, Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley,
Ventura, Orange
44,000 15,300 27,115 61
4 Feb. 27, 2010 Chile: Concepcion, Metropolitana, Rancagua, Talca,
Temuco, Valparaiso. Includes tsunami.
30,000 8,000 9,564 520
5 Sep. 4, 2010 New Zealand: Canterbury, Christchurch, Avonside,
Omihi, Timaru, Kaiapoi, Lyttelton
10,000 7,400 8,778 0
6 Apr. 14-16, 2016 Japan: Kumamoto, Aso, Chuo Ward, Mashiki, Minamiaso,
Oita, Miyazaki, Fukuoka, Yamaguchi
32,000 6,500 7,039 205
7 Jan. 17, 1995 Japan: Hyogo, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto 100,000 3,000 5,172 6,430
8 Nov. 13, 2016 New Zealand: Canterbury, Kaikoura, Waiau,
Wellington, Marlborough, Picton
3,900 2,100 2,254 2
9 Jun. 13, 2011 New Zealand: Canterbury, Christchurch, Lyttelton 2,700 2,100 2,411 1
10 Sep. 19, 2017 Mexico: Puebla, Morelos, Greater Mexico City 6,000 2,000 2,100 369

(1) Data through 2020 as of March 2021. 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: © 2021 Munich Re, Geo Risks Research; Wikipedia.

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