Facts + Statistics: Earthquakes and tsunamis

World

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. 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 most costly 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. Also on April 16, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Ecuador. At least 272 people died, and more than 2,500 others were injured. Overall losses were $2 billion and insured losses totaled $560 million, making it the third costliest quake in 2016. 

In New Zealand, a 7.8 magnitude quake on November 13 killed 2 people and cause $3.9 billion in overall losses, and $2.1 billion in insured losses, ranking second in terms of losses in 2016. The February 5 6.4 magnitude quake in Taiwan ranked third worst in 2016. Damage was most significant in the city of Tainan, where several multi-story buildings collapsed.  About 117 people died in the quake. Overall losses amounted to $700 million and insured losses reached $370 million. A series of earthquakes in Italy as high as 6.6 magnitude rounded out the top five quakes. The quakes, which stretched from Umbria to Rome on October 26 to 30, caused $6.5 billion in overall losses and $140 in insured losses, and killed 2 people.

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 the costliest natural catastrophe to strike Ecuador, based on Swiss Re records. Insured losses totaled $0.5 billion.

On April 14, 2016, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the Kumamoto prefecture of Japan. Twenty-eight hours later a magnitude 7.3 quake struck the region. Japanese officials have confirmed 41 deaths.

On February 6, 2016, a strong magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck southern Taiwan killing at least 117 people and injuring 550 others. Damage was most significant in the city of Tainan, where several multi-story buildings collapsed. According to Aon Benfield the Taiwan government allocated $750 million for recovery and rebuilding. The Financial Supervisory Commission cited preliminary insured losses at only $8.0 million.

On August 24, 2016, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck central Italy, killing about 300 people. It was followed by a series of aftershocks in October one of which registered magnitude 6.6, the most powerful to strike Italy since 1980. Combined, economic losses from the quakes totaled $6 billion. According to Swiss Re, only a fraction of these losses were covered.

2015 Earthquakes: In 2015 there were 14,588 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 or greater worldwide according to the U.S. Geological Survey. This number is on par with prior year averages. There were 19 earthquakes worldwide of magnitude 7.0 or higher. The average has been about 18 such earthquakes per year for over 100 years.

There were 9,612 earthquake-related deaths worldwide in 2015, a significant increase compared with 664 deaths in 2014. The deadliest earthquake of 2015 struck Nepal on April 25. The 7.8 magnitude quake caused about 8,964 fatalities. It was followed by another deadly earthquake in Nepal with a magnitude of 7.3 on May 12 that killed an additional 218 people. In 2015 deadly quakes also occurred in Afghanistan, Malaysia and Chile. Aftershocks from the Nepal earthquake could persist for years according to geologists. Only a small fraction of the economic losses are covered by insurance.

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 $35.7 billion in insured damages, according to Swiss Re. Also, early in 2011 a powerful earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand, resulting in $15.3 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).

World Insured Catastrophe Losses, 2008-2017 (1)

(2017 $ millions)

Year Weather-related
natural catastrophes
Man-made Earthquakes/tsunami Total
2008 $49,890 $9,547 $480 $59,917
2009 24,447 4,486 696 29,630
2010 32,869 5,364 18,211 56,443
2011 72,253 7,377 59,327 138,958
2012 68,714 6,275 1,825 76,815
2013 37,633 8,135 47 45,815
2014 30,094 7,286 324 37,704
2015 28,134 9,813 527 38,474
2016 38,695 8,377 8,863 55,935
2017 136,442 6,246 1,615 144,303

(1) In order to maintain comparability of the data over the course of time, the minimum threshold for losses was adjusted annually to compensate for inflation in the United Sates. Adjusted to 2017 dollars by Swiss Re.

Source: Swiss Re Institute.

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Top 10 Costliest World Earthquakes And Tsunamis By Insured Losses, 1980-2016 (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 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 6,200 205
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 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

(1) As of September 2017. 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: © 2017 Munich Re, Geo Risks Research, NatCatSERVICE.

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United States

In 2016 the biggest earthquake to strike the United States was a magnitude 6.9 quake that occurred on July 27 southwest of Umnak Island, Alaska. There was no damage due to the remote location. In addition, in September a 5.8 magnitude quake struck Pawnee, Oklahoma, the largest recorded earthquake in the state. Damage from the quake was minimal.

In 2015 the biggest earthquake to strike the United States was a magnitude 6.9 quake that occurred on July 27 southwest of Umnak Island, Alaska. There was no damage due to the remote location. Seismicity continued to rise in 2015 in the central United States, with 32 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 and greater in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas compared with 17 in 2014. Moderate earthquakes also occurred in Nevada and Arizona. A magnitude 5.0 quake east of Challis, Idaho, hit on January 3. There were no fatalities caused by earthquakes in 2015 in the United States.

The costliest U.S. earthquake, the 1994 Northridge quake, caused $15.3 billion in insured damages when it occurred (about $25 billion in 2015 dollars). It ranks as the fifth-costliest U.S. disaster, based on insured property losses (in 2015 dollars), topped only by Hurricane Katrina, the attacks on the World Trade Center, Hurricane Andrew and superstorm Sandy. Eight of the costliest U.S. quakes, based on inflation-adjusted insured losses, were in California, according to Munich Re. On August 24, 2014 a 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck South Napa, California, killing one person and causing $700 million in total damage and $150 million in insured losses, according to Munich Re.

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 2016
dollars (3)
Fatalities
1 Jan. 17, 1994 California: Northridge, Los Angeles,
San Fernando Valley, Ventura, Orange
$44,000 $15,300 $25,223 61
2 Apr. 18, 1906 California: San Francisco, Santa Rosa,
San Jose
525 180 4,426 (4) 3,000
3 Oct. 17, 1989 California: Loma Prieta, Santa Cruz, San Francisco,
Oakland, Berkeley, Silicon Valley
10,000 960 1,842 68
4 Feb. 28, 2001 Washington: Olympia, Seattle, Tacoma; Oregon 2,000 300 411 1
5 Mar. 27-28, 1964 Alaska: Anchorage, Kodiak Island, Seward,
Valdez, Portage, Whittier, Cordova, Homer, Seldovia
540 45 351 131
6 Feb. 9, 1971 California: San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles 550 35 211 65
7 Oct. 1, 1987 California: Los Angeles, Whittier 360 75 157 8
8 Aug. 24, 2014 California: Napa, Vallejo, Solano, Sonoma,
American Canyon
700 150 152 1
9 Apr. 4, 2010 California: San Diego, Calexico, El Centro,
Los Angeles, Imperial; Arizona: Phoenix, Yuma
150 100 111 0
10 Sep. 3, 2000 California: Napa 80 50 69 0

(1) Costliest U.S. earthquakes occurring from 1950 to 2016, 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 2016 dollars by the Insurance Information Institute using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Inflation Calculator.
(4) Inflation-adjusted to 2016 dollars based on 1913 Bureau of Labor Statistics data (earliest year available).

Source: © 2017 Munich Re, NatCatSERVICE; 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 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 10 Historical Earthquakes Based On Current Exposures (1)

($ billions)

Rank Date Location Magnitude 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.

Top 10 Writers Of Earthquake Insurance By Direct Premiums Written, 2016

($000)

Rank Group/company Direct premiums written (1) Market share (2)
1 California Earthquake Authority $621,549 21.8%
2 State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance 250,285 8.8
3 Zurich Insurance Group (3) 176,528 6.2
4 Chubb Ltd. 157,716 5.5
5 American International Group (AIG) 143,347 5.0
6 Travelers Companies Inc. 128,097 4.5
7 GeoVera Insurance Group 110,298 3.9
8 Liberty Mutual 77,832 2.7
9 Swiss Re Ltd. 67,335 2.4
10 Berkshire Hathaway Inc. 63,603 2.2

(1) Before reinsurance transactions, includes state funds.
(2) Based on U.S. total, includes territories.
(3) Data for Farmers Insurance Group of Companies and Zurich Financial Group (which owns Farmers' management company) are reported separately by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

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 10 percent of California residents currently have earthquake coverage, down from about 30 percent in 1996, two years after the Northridge, California, earthquake.

Eight percent of homeowners responding to a May 2016 poll by the Insurance Information Institute said they have earthquake insurance. Homeowners in the West were most likely to have earthquake insurance with 14 percent saying they had the coverage followed by the Midwest at 7 percent; and the South and Northeast at 6 percent.

Earthquake Insurance, Direct Premiums Written By State, 2016 (1)

($000)

Rank State Direct premiums written ($000)
1 California $1,621,988
2 Washington 165,309
3 Missouri 90,652
4 Oregon 81,900
5 Tennessee 80,555
6 Illinois 64,575
7 New York 48,859
8 Utah 45,219
9 Kentucky 41,443
10 South Carolina 41,437
11 Indiana 35,805
12 Arkansas 31,365
13 Texas 27,835
14 Ohio 26,884
15 Alaska 25,554
16 Oklahoma 23,803
17 Florida 22,175
18 Massachusetts 21,613
19 New Jersey 21,438
20 Nevada 20,884
21 Mississippi 16,388
22 Pennsylvania 15,800
23 Virginia 15,709
24 Georgia 12,303
25 North Carolina 11,539
26 Hawaii 10,924
27 Maryland 10,139
28 Colorado 8,935
29 Arizona 8,781
30 Alabama 7,420
31 Kansas 6,933
32 Michigan 6,838
33 Connecticut 6,799
34 Louisiana 5,354
35 Minnesota 4,866
36 Montana 4,651
37 Wisconsin 4,199
38 Iowa 4,133
39 Idaho 3,818
40 Wyoming 2,969
41 New Hampshire 2,629
42 D.C. 2,316
43 New Mexico 2,303
44 Nebraska 2,253
45 Rhode Island 2,083
46 Maine 1,907
47 West Virginia 1,319
48 Delaware 1,070
49 Vermont 882
50 North Dakota 500
51 South Dakota 483
  United States $2,725,535

(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 fell 2.1 percent to $2.73 billion in 2016 from $2.78 billion in 2015.
  • California had the largest amount of earthquake premiums in 2016, at $1.6 billion, accounting for 60 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 percent of premiums) and Missouri, Oregon and Tennessee, all with 3 percent.

Earthquake Insurance, 2007-2016

($000)

Year Net premiums written (1) Annual percent change Combined ratio (2) Annual point change (3)
2007 $1,246,538 -5.2% 30.0 -10.4 pts.
2008 1,259,872 1.1 33.5 3.5
2009 1,288,353 2.3 36.3 2.8
2010 1,443,598 12.0 41.4 5.1
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 34.1 3.8
2015 1,649,753 0.5 28.1 -6.0
2016 1,533,890 -7.0 34.3 6.2

(1) After reinsurance transactions, excludes state funds.
(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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