Early wakeup call - KMOV.com

Early wakeup call

I woke up at 4:37 this morning.

The house was shaking, our dog was barking and my wife and I quickly determined that this was not what we initially believed to be a familiar blast of strong wind.

I've covered earthquakes. I even slept through one when we lived in the Pacific Northwest. This quake caught us off-guard. We were nervous, excited and found it impossible to get back to sleep, which meant that I got an early start at News 4.

Although the New Madrid Fault runs through Missouri, it still surprises many of us when an earthquake rumbles through the area. The quake that hit today was a 5.2 on the Richter scale, a moderate one that appears to have caused minor damage in the midwest. Since then we've had aftershocks, including one that was measured at 4.5 on the Richter scale.

In 1811 and 1812, several massive earthquakes along the New Madrid Fault rocked the midwest. The quakes were all around 8.0 on the Richter scale, roughly ten times more powerful than the legendary San Francisco quake in 1906. Clearly, a major earthquake is possible here.

In recent years, many residents complained about high deductables and rates for earthquake insurance. The Missouri Division of Insurance keeps track of rates and coverage across the state.

Last month, the Missouri Earthquake Insurance Task Force released a preliminary report concerning the availability and affordability of earthquake insurance in Missouri.

Doug Ommen, the Director of the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Regulations, admits "there's a problem" in finding affordable earthquake insurance.

Ommen told me that in recent years some insurers dropped coverage and others raised deductables to 25% of the value of a home. The biggest increases took place along the New Madrid Fault in southeastern Missouri and in St. Louis, which has thousands of old brick buildings.

Only 37.7% of the homeowners in Missouri have earthquake insurance, a figure Ommen finds "really troubling."

The trend started soon after deadly hurricanes, including Katrina, bombed the Gulf Coast in 2005. Insurance losses totaled more than $57 billion dollars, making it the most damaging series of natural disasters in U.S. history.

Those losses are still driving up the cost of insurance around the country, including rates and deductables for earthquake coverage in Missouri, according to Ommen.

Ommen told me that following the massive losses due to claims filed by hurricaine victims, the insurance rates paid by insurance companies also skyrocketed. Those costs were either passed along to consumers or insurance was discontinued in areas like hurricane zones or communities near the New Madrid Fault, which Ommen says are the kind of places where insurers "could have huge losses" if there was a natural disaster.

Ommen is heading the task force looking into the issue and expects to release a final report in September. He believes the state will figure out a way to make coverage more affordable, perhaps through a special fund.

Brent Butler, the Government Affairs Director for the Missouri Insurance Coalition, a non-profit group representing the insurance industry, insists "it's not difficult" to find earthquake insurance in Missouri, adding "coverage is out there."

Many states, including Missouri, have placed caps on different kinds of insurance rates, but it's unclear what, if anything will happen with earthquake insurance.

Hopefully, we'll get some answers before the next earthquake hits home.

Powered by Frankly