- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The biggest aftershock of Tuesday’s East Coast earthquake might be that traditional homeowners’ insurance won’t pay for the damages.

The 5.8 magnitude quake - the largest in this region in more than a century - served as a rattling awakening for many homeowners in the Washington area, who assumed they were covered.

“That was the first question customers were asking yesterday,” said Duane Folmar, an Allstate sales specialist in the District. ” ‘Can we get some earthquake insurance?’ “

While most homeowners’ insurance policies cover natural disasters, such as tornados and hurricanes, few cover earthquakes. Like flood insurance, it has to be purchased separately.

Many East Coast insurance companies don’t even offer quake coverage.

“There is very, very little earthquake coverage in place on the East Coast,” said Bob Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute. “Clearly, this event suggests that people should be worried about it. There could have been substantial damage.”

Allstate, for example, has no earthquake policy for local homeowners. But the company has noticed an increased interest in it.

“It’s not a common insurance product,” Allstate spokeswoman Debbie Pickford said.

Homeowners who search hard enough, however, can find it, Mr. Hartwig said.

State Farm, for instance, offers earthquake insurance locally. It costs about $100 to $150 a year on average, according to spokeswoman Maria Jackson, and is an add-on that customers must request, although most don’t.

State Farm saw an increase in sales after a small quake in the region about a year ago.

In the District, State Farm has sold more than 150 such policies, and there were about 50 claims as of Wednesday.

In Virginia, there are more than 6,700 policies and 140 claims.

In Maryland, there are more than 3,500 policies and 110 claims.

“Going forward, people purchasing homes and purchasing property are going to ask that question,” said Ray Mensah, a State Farm agent in Bethesda. ” ‘Do I have coverage? What does it cost?’ “

Even in quake-prone California, only about 10 percent of homeowners have an insurance policy that covers such damages, according to Glenn Pomeroy, CEO of the California Earthquake Authority. The lack of insurance there is usually attributed to its high cost.

“Yesterday was a wake up call for people in the Northeast that earthquakes can happen anywhere, not just in California,” he said. “Most people don’t think about it. It takes a major event to get people to realize, ‘Oh yeah, I guess they do happen. I better think about it.’ “

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