Should you buy earthquake insurance?


Jim Sterling works and lives in Eutaw, Alabama. That’s in Greene County—in the western part of the state. He’s experienced several earthquakes over the years.

“I heard a loud boom-like noise, like a sonic boom,” Sterling said. “Then, the whole house starts shaking. I thought it might have been an airplane crash or something.”

According to the Geological Survey of Alabama, Eutaw had 18 earthquakes between 2014 and 2016. The magnitude of those quakes ranged from 1.5 to 3.8 on the Richter Scale. They were small quakes that didn’t do any damage—but can certainly be frightening.

Denise Hills is a geoscientist with the Geological Survey of Alabama. She says faults a mile deep may have caused the cluster of small quakes in Eutaw over that two-year period.

“That’s why you get earthquakes all together,” Hills said. “It’s that one part that moves and pushes on the next part. And that next part will move and that next part will move.”

Here’s a snapshot of the three largest quakes in Alabama:

  • April 29, 2003: A 4.9 magnitude earthquake struck DeKalb County – in the northeast part of the state, That was about 10 miles from Fort Payne. It caused chimney damage, cracks in floors, and broke homeowner’s personal belongings.
  • October 24, 1997: A 4.9 magnitude quake happened in Escambia County in South Alabama. No major damage, but large cracks developed in sand along a creek.
  • October 18, 1916: A 5.1 magnitude quake occurred in Irondale, in Jefferson County. It caused chimneys to fall, broken windows, and it dried up wells.

So, what are the chances an earthquake that big, or even bigger, could occur in Central Alabama?

“Extraordinarily unlikely,” Hills said. “We’re not going to have something that big because we don’t have the mechanism to build up that much energy.”

Standard homeowner’s insurance policies don’t cover earthquake damage. But, should you buy that coverage just in case?

“The first place to start is talking with your insurance professional and assessing the risks in your community,” said Michael Barry a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute.

“It depends on how you feel about it,” Hills said. “It’s not something I’d say you’d have to have.”

Jim Sterling decided not to buy earthquake insurance, even though he’s experienced several quakes in Eutaw.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Sterling said. “It didn’t damage anything.”

State Farm, the largest insurer in Alabama, says the price of premiums for earthquake insurance depends on individual circumstances.

You should also take a close look at the amount of the deductible to see if earthquake coverage is worth buying.

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