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Few purchase earthquake insurance

August 25, 2011 12:16 am

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David Whitlock (right) and Doug Whitlock of Mineral Auto Parts inspect building for damage after the earthquake.

BY CATHY JETT
BY CATHY JETT

Mac Flick had the same answer for all four clients who called yesterday morning to see if their insurance policies covered earthquake damage to their property.

"I said, 'I'm sorry, but no,'" said Flick, who runs Lake Anna Insurance in Mineral Town Square shopping center with his son and daughter-in-law. "Most of the people said, 'I figured that.' Others said, 'I can't believe they won't cover this.'"

Flick was sympathetic. His home, which is in a Spotsylvania County subdivision near the Louisa County line, suffered between $10,000 and $15,000 worth of damage due to the quake--and his insurance policy doesn't cover it, either.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, standard insurance policies for both homes and businesses exclude damage from earth movement, although they normally cover fire and water damage due to gas and water pipes that burst due to an earthquake.

Cars, trucks and other vehicles are covered for quake damage by the comprehensive portion of vehicle insurance, which is optional. It also provides protection against flood and hurricane damage as well as theft.

While many insurance companies offer a rider to existing homeowners' or business owners' insurance policies to cover earth movement, including sinkholes, few people get one because earthquakes aren't a common occurrence, especially on the East Coast.

Riders also typically include a deductible, which generally takes the form of a percentage. This can range anywhere from 2 percent to 20 percent of the replacement value of the structure.

"If the deductible is 10 percent, that means the deductible on a $100,000 house is $10,000," said Becky Mathes, an agent at Maloney & Ward Insurance and Investment Services, 202 West Evans St. in Culpeper. "That discourages some people. Two percent wouldn't be so bad, but who has $10,000 or more just sitting around?"

Still, Mathes said she's already got a list with the names of nine people who want to get earth-movement riders on their policies.

Flick, on the other hand, is willing to take his chances. "I'm a betting man," he said. "It was a 100-year quake. I won't be around for the next one."

Tuesday's magnitude-5.8 quake, whose epicenter was closest to the Louisa County community of Cuckoo, was the second-largest in Virginia's history. It was surpassed only by a magnitude-5.9 quake in May 1897 in Giles County.

While the amount of damage caused by Tuesday's earthquake is still being calculated, the potential cost of the roughly 5,000 quakes that rock the United States each year has been growing. This is due to increasing urban development in seismically active areas and the vulnerability of older buildings, such as the four historic buildings in Culpeper that were damaged Tuesday.

"Everyone, no matter where they live, should contact their agent or company representative to make sure that they have the right type and amount of insurance," said Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president of public affairs and consumer spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute.

She added that people also need to have an up-to-date home inventory. This can be done using the institute's free, online program, which is available online at the website knowyourstuff.org

Checking insurance coverage and updating a home inventory could also come in handy if Hurricane Irene barrels this way over the weekend, as is being forecast. Most homeowners' insurance policies cover wind damage, including paying to remove trees that hit a house and to clean up afterward. But it's difficult to find an insurance company willing to make any changes to coverage once a hurricane develops in the Atlantic Ocean.

Policies issued in Virginia generally do not provide coverage for damage to a person's home and belongings due to flooding, according to the State Corporation Commission.

Mortgage companies require property owners who live in a flood zone to have a separate flood insurance policy, which is available through the National Flood Insurance Program. Information about this is available from insurance agents and the NFIP at 888/379-9531 or floodsmart.gov.

Even areas that aren't in flood zones can get heavy rains and experience flooding. In fact, 31 to 35 percent of all flood claims happen to people in non-flood zones. Insurance policies are available that are less-expensive than those for people living in flood zones. They go into effect 30 days after the policy is signed.

Optional coverage for such things as water and sewage backup and frozen food that spoiled because the power went off also are available.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407
Email: cjett@freelancestar.com





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