Facts + Statistics: Earthquakes and tsunamis

World

2021 Earthquakes: On February 13 a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture near the area of the devastating 2011 quake. According to Aon as many as 4,700 residential structures were damaged or destroyed. Total economic losses were expected to reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

2020 Earthquakes: Croatia experienced the strongest earthquake in 140 years on December 29, a 6.4 magnitude quake 50 km southeast of the capital, Zagreb. The Economic Ministry of Croatia estimated that insured losses would be about $63.5 million, a tiny fraction of the $13.7 billion in total losses. In March, an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.3 struck the region north of Zagreb, causing property losses of $1.8 billion according to Munich Re.

In the United States, on January 7, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck southwest Puerto Rico, which lies in a tectonically active region. The island had not had a quake of this level since 1918. The 2020 quake caused widespread damage to infrastructure in a region that is still recovering from the effects of 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

2019 Earthquakes: In the United States, the sparsely populated Ridgecrest City section of California was struck by a pair of significant earthquakes in 2019. 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.

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.

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 when it occurred ($46 billion in 2020 dollars), according to Munich Re. Also, in February 2011 a powerful earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand, resulting in $16.5 billion in insured damages when it occurred ($19 billion in 2020 dollars) . 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, 1980-2020 (1)

(US$ millions)

      Losses  
        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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United States

The 1994 Northridge quake was the costliest U.S. earthquake on record, causing $15.3 billion in insured damages when it occurred ($27.1 billion in 2020 dollars) according to Munich Re. It ranks as the seventh costliest U.S. disaster, based on insured property losses (in 2020 dollars). Six of the costliest U.S. quakes from 1980 to 2020, based on inflation-adjusted insured losses, were in California.

An 8.2 magnitude earthquake rocked Alaska's peninsula near Perryville in the Aleutian Islands, on July 28, 2021. No major damage or injuries were reported. It was the strongest quake since an 8.7 magnitude quake that struck the Aleutians in 1965. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that there were 129 aftershocks by August 2. Six of the tremors were magnitude 5 or higher.

A 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck south central Alaska on May 30, 2021.  It was the strongest quake to hit the area since the November 2018 quake (see below). On February 27 a quake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.3 hit 9 miles northwest of Anchorage. According to the Alaska Earthquake Center, it was an aftershock of the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that caused widespread damage throughout the Anchorage area in November 2018. The 2018 earthquake caused $130 million in insured losses when it occurred ($134 million in 2020 dollars), but no fatalities. The 2018 losses were minimal due to the city’s major seismic improvements put into place after a 1964 magnitude 9.2 quake, the largest magnitude in the nation, struck Anchorage.

On January 7, 2020, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck southwest Puerto Rico, which lies in a tectonically active region. The island has not had a quake of this level since 1918. The 2020 quake caused widespread damage to infrastructure in a region that is still recovering from the effects of 2017’s Hurricane Maria. 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 in California 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.

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 2020
dollars (3)
Fatalities
1 Jan. 17, 1994 California: Northridge, Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley, Ventura, Orange $44,000 $15,300 $27,115 61
2 Apr. 18, 1906 California: San Francisco, Santa Rosa, San Jose 525 180 4,759 (4) 3,000
3 Oct. 17, 1989 California: Loma Prieta, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Silicon Valley 10,000 960 1,980 68
4 Feb. 28, 2001 Washington: Olympia, Seattle, Tacoma; Oregon 2,000 300 442 1
5 Oct. 1, 1987 California: Los Angeles County, Whittier 360 75 169 8
6 Aug. 24, 2014 California: Napa, Vallejo, Solano, Sonoma, American Canyon 700 150 163 1
7 Nov. 30, 2018 Alaska: Anchorage, Wasilla, Palmer, Tok, Valdez 150 130 134 0
8 Apr. 4, 2010 California: San Diego, Calexico, El Centro, Los Angeles, Imperial; Arizona: Phoenix, Yuma 150 100 119 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 2020, 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 2020 dollars by the Insurance Information Institute using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Inflation Calculator.
(4) Inflation-adjusted to 2020 dollars based on 1913 Bureau of Labor Statistics data (earliest year available).

Source: © 2021 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, 2020

($000)

Rank Group/company Direct premiums written (1) Market share (2)
1 California Earthquake Authority $843,756 19.8%
2 FM Global  341,855 8.0
3 Zurich Insurance Group 284,421 6.7
4 State Farm 284,085 6.7
5 Chubb Ltd. 187,598 4.4
6 Palomar Specialty Insurance Co. 183,302 4.3
7 Travelers Companies Inc. 156,662 3.7
8 American International Group (AIG) 141,374 3.3
9 Sompo Holdings Inc. 122,128 2.9
10 AXA SA  119,627 2.8

(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, 2019 (1)

($000)

Rank State Direct premiums written ($000)
1 California $2,072,849
2 Washington 239,773
3 Oregon 106,635
4 Missouri 101,823
5 Tennessee 87,637
6 Illinois 76,216
7 New York 61,995
8 Utah 60,615
9 Kentucky 53,831
10 South Carolina 49,122
11 Texas 42,189
12 Indiana 40,857
13 Ohio 36,051
14 Arkansas 35,813
15 Massachusetts 31,103
16 Alaska 30,264
17 Nevada 26,931
18 Florida 26,340
19 Virginia 24,955
20 New Jersey 23,199
21 Pennsylvania 19,807
22 Oklahoma 18,976
23 Georgia 18,427
24 Mississippi 16,687
25 Maryland 14,121
26 Colorado 13,839
27 North Carolina 13,738
28 Hawaii 13,296
29 Arizona 12,342
30 Alabama 10,014
31 Michigan 8,618
32 Connecticut 8,207
33 Kansas 8,029
34 Montana 6,922
35 Minnesota 6,293
36 Louisiana 5,572
37 Iowa 5,212
38 Wisconsin 5,189
39 Idaho 4,437
40 Wyoming 4,215
41 D.C. 4,143
42 New Mexico 3,507
43 New Hampshire 3,262
44 Rhode Island 2,356
45 Nebraska 2,267
46 Maine 1,884
47 West Virginia 1,321
48 Delaware 1,297
49 Vermont 1,197
50 North Dakota 1,046
51 South Dakota 491
  United States $3,464,910

(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 12.9 percent to $3.5 billion in 2019 from $3.1 billion in 2018.
  • California had the largest amount of earthquake premiums in 2019, at $2.1 billion, accounting for 59.8 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 (6.9 percent of premiums) and Oregon (3.1 percent) Missouri (2.9 percent) and Tennessee (2.5 percent).

Earthquake Insurance, 2011-2020

($000)

Year Net premiums
written (1)
Annual percent
change
Combined
ratio (2)
Annual point
change (3)
2011 $1,467,372 1.6% 55.8 14.4 pts.
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 1,985,751 8.7 29.0 -15.3
2020 2,386,557 20.2 38.1 9.1

(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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