Okla. quakes alarm Iolans

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November 30, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Local insurance agents say interest in earthquake coverage is way up since the rash of tremors started in Oklahoma earlier this month.
Since Nov. 5, when 4.7 and 5.6 magnitude quakes shook Kansas’ neighbor to the south, at least seven more temblors have originated in Oklahoma, two of which were felt in Iola.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a federal science agency, the Nov. 5 quake — the most significant shift of Oklahoma’s Wilzetta fault in history —  was felt as far north as Illinois. Another Oklahoma quake, this time measuring magnitude 4.8 and also felt in Iola, occurred just two days later. Six more tremors have been recorded in the last 10 days.
Although earthquakes aren’t the type of natural hazard normally associated with Midwestern states like Kansas and Oklahoma, people are starting to wonder if they should be, by evidence of the uptick of inquiries about earthquake insurance.
American Family Insurance Agent Ken Rowe and State Farm Insurance Agent John McRae say they’ve been fielding more quake coverage questions since the two tremors shook Iola four weeks ago.
“I’ve probably gotten about 20 to 30 calls,” Rowe said.
Most insurance agencies offer quake coverage only as a supplement, or “endorsement” to an existing homeowners’ or renters’ plan, McRae said. If someone already has a home covered, the additional coverage is anywhere from $13 to $40 per year, depending on the deductible.
Some wanting earthquake insurance might find they have missed the boat, for now.
After an earthquake occurs, insurance companies typically put a hold, or moratorium, on the sale of earthquake policies within a certain radius of the epicenter of a quake measuring a certain intensity — a move intended to “slow down the buying on initial fear,” Rowe said.
“What happened several years ago when there was a little rumble over in that fault … around St. Louis, in about a year’s period of time, everybody and their brother wanted to put earthquake insurance on their home,” he said, referring to a magnitude 5.4 quake experienced in 2008. “Well, within a year after that, they had all dropped it.
“If the insurance is not on the books for three or four years, the insurance company loses money,” Rowe added, referring the reasoning behind the wait time for quake insurance after such an event occurs.
The radius, intensity and length of the moratorium vary depending on the insurance provider.
“It’s not unlike a moratorium on flood insurance,” McRae said. “You can’t buy flood insurance in a period where flood waters are rising.”
State Farms’ radius requirements for moratorium, however, weren’t met — the Nov. 5 quake’s epicenter was about 44 miles northeast of Oklahoma City — so those policy holders are able to purchase the added coverage, he said.
But even with the increasing frequency of area temblors, agents shouldn’t expect very many people to get protected.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, only about one in eight residents in California, where earthquakes are common, have earthquake coverage.
Just because quakes aren’t considered normal for the Midwest — earthquakes rank 21 of 22 potential disasters in the Kansas Division of Emergency Management’s state response plan — that doesn’t mean Kansans are immune, said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Don Blakeman.
“There’s some stress that isn’t relieved at the edge of the crustal plates so that stress within the plate gives us earthquakes once in a while,” he said from his Golden, Colo. office. “That can be said for any of the quakes we get in the lower 48 except along California, Oregon and Washington.”  
Kansas alone has experienced more than 210 temblors since 1867.
So although most people don’t opt for the quake coverage when purchasing homeowners insurance, someday, most will wish they had, McRae said.
“We always offer it when we’re selling a policy and everybody gets a chuckle out of it,” he said. “Someday, there will be some folks regretting not putting it on.”

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