Regional quakes are reminders of risk

  • Wednesday, February 19, 2014

  • Updated Wednesday, February 19, 2014 11:50 am

The U.S. Geological Survey reported a 1.7 magnitude tremor rumbled beneath Summerville and Ladson, S.C. on Nov. 17. It reported a 2.5 magnitude tremor at 3 p.m. on Feb. 11 in Beaufort County in North Carolina.

And then on Friday, another small earthquake struck the Palmetto State in Edgefield near the Georgia border, rattling homes – and residents’ nerves – between 10 and 11 p.m. It was estimated to be 4.1 in magnitude.

On Sunday afternoon, an aftershock in the same area measured 3.2 on the Richter scale. People in Georgetown County and many other parts of the state reported feeling or hearing the earth shake.

On Aug. 31, 1886, the biggest quake in the state’s history – 7.3 on the Richter Scale – was centered in Charleston. Few buildings in the city escaped damage.

In fact, structural damage was reported hundreds of miles away in West Virginia, central Alabama and other far-flung locations. Tremors were felt as far away as Canada and Cuba. More than 60 people died.

Experts estimate if the Charleston quake were to occur today, damage would exceed $40 billion.

Fortunately, the state’s most recent geological events caused neither destruction nor death, but we are newly reminded seismic activity can cause great loss in the blink of an eye. As in 1886, the devastation can be extensive and expensive, and recovery can take years.

According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, our state: “is at risk for many natural threats including earthquakes, extreme heat, flooding, thunderstorms and lightning, tornadoes, wildfires and winter storms.” The DHEC website goes on to assert that South Carolina has several fault lines and as many as ten to thirty earthquakes are recorded annually. Most tend to register less than 3.0 on the Richter scale – but there is no way of knowing when or where the next big quake will make its mark.

“While we typically don’t think about them, earthquakes pose a very real threat to South Carolinians,” said Russ Dubisky, executive director of the South Carolina Insurance News Service. “This is certainly coverage individuals should consider as they look for ways to protect their family, assets, and financial futures against natural disasters.”

Recent catastrophe models, the process of using computer-assisted calculations to estimate the losses that could be sustained due to a catastrophic event such as a hurricane or earthquake, have placed a higher emphasis on earthquake risk in South Carolina. In fact, according to catastrophe research, all of South Carolina carries a moderate to high risk of earthquakes.

Earthquakes are not covered under standard U.S. homeowners or business insurance policies, but coverage can be added to most policies either as an “endorsement,” or by purchasing a separate, monoline policy to cover damage to a home and its contents caused by the movement of the earth.

A recent poll by the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) found that only 10% of American homeowners have earthquake insurance, compared with 13 percent in 2012. Increases in risk and exposure to earthquake damage have led many insurance markets to evaluate reducing their earthquake exposures. Fortunately, earthquake coverage is still available in South Carolina.

“While the number of people buying earthquake insurance has declined, the potential cost of U.S. earthquakes has been growing because of increasing urban development in seismically active areas and the vulnerability of older buildings, which may or may not have been built or upgraded to current building codes,” said Dr. Robert Hartwig, CPCU, an economist and president of the I.I.I.

The South Carolina Insurance News Service provides the following facts:

All of South Carolina is considered to have a moderate to high risk for earthquakes.

A damaging earthquake could result in South Carolinians facing serious injury and property damage. Without earthquake insurance, individuals would have to pay for all damages to their home and possessions.

Earthquake insurance is priced largely depending on the location and construction of your home. The average cost of earthquake coverage varies around the state. Earthquake deductibles apply separately from your basic homeowner’s (and business) policy deductible.

Consider retrofitting your home to make it more resistant to earthquake damage, like fastening a framed house to the foundation or fastening interior shelves securely to walls.


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