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10 Costliest Catastrophes in the U.S.

Recall with us the ten costliest catastrophes in the U.S., with our guidance on how to best protect yourself against similar losses.

They destroy homes and vehicles, displace families and interrupt business. The question is, who pays?

The 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the Mid-Atlantic states on August 23 was a vivid reminder that disasters can strike without warning. Having the right insurance is important to your personal finances. If an event similar to the historic San Francisco earthquake of 1906 were to strike today, insured losses would top $100 billion, estimates AIR Worldwide, a risk-modeling firm. Back then, however, little property was insured.

SEE ALSO: SLIDE SHOW: Top 10 States Most at Risk of Disaster

But Americans seem to have learned their lesson. Our ranking here of the ten costliest catastrophes to hit the U.S. based on insured losses is dominated entirely by events of the past two decades. Even a recent catastrophe, such as 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, would be significantly more expensive if it occurred now. Most catastrophes on the list resulted from natural disasters, though one unnatural disaster also earned a spot.

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With each event, you'll find our guidance on how to best protect yourself against similar losses.

Rankings reflect insured losses for disasters (since 1989) that affected a significant number of policyholders and insurers. Data was provided by ISO's Property Claims Services unit, which helps assess risk for the insurance industry.

1. Hurricane Katrina

Year: 2005

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Areas affected: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee

Insured losses (then): $41.1 billion

Insured losses (in 2011 dollars): $47.5 billion

Disaster insurance tip: Most homeowners insurance policies exclude floods. Check yours. The National Flood Insurance Program offers supplemental flood coverage to anyone in the U.S. The average flood premium is about $600 a year. Basic policies for low- to moderate-risk areas start at $129.

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2. Hurricane Andrew

Year: 1992

Areas affected: Florida, Louisiana

Insured losses (then): $15.5 billion

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Insured losses (in 2011 dollars): $24.9 billion

Disaster insurance tip: Mold is a four-letter word in the insurance business. If water enters your home, be it due to wind-driven rain, rising floodwaters or even a leaky pipe, work quickly to dry out wet spots and prevent future infiltration. Moisture is the key to mold growth. Also think twice before submitting a small water-related claim. Some insurers might raise premiums or even cancel coverage for fear the minor water damage will turn into a major mold cleanup.

3. 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

Year: 2001

Areas affected: New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia

Insured losses (then): $18.8 billion

Insured losses (in 2011 dollars): $23.9 billion

Disaster insurance tip: Homeowners and renters should be covered by standard policies in the event of a terrorist attack. In general, if your policy covers the type of damage you experience, such as fire, then you’ll get reimbursed even if the damage results from terrorism. Keep in mind, however, that homeowners insurance and renters insurance typically exclude acts of war and nuclear disasters. Read the fine print.

4. Northridge, Cal., Earthquake

Year: 1994

Areas affected: California

Insured losses (then): $12.5 billion

Insured losses (in 2011 dollars): $19.0 billion

Disaster insurance tip: California doesn’t have a monopoly on earthquakes. Most states are susceptible to this type of natural disaster. Damage to your car should be covered by your auto policy, but standard homeowners insurance excludes earthquakes. To insure your home, you’ll need to add an endorsement to your policy or purchase separate earthquake insurance.

5. Hurricane Ike

Year: 2008

Areas affected: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas

Insured losses (then): $12.5 billion

Insured losses (in 2011 dollars): $13.1 billion

Disaster insurance tip: Filing an insurance claim after a disaster is hard enough, but it’s especially tough if you don’t have detailed records of your belongings. That’s where a home inventory comes in. Use a digital camera or camcorder to document your possessions. Online inventory programs are also available. Or simple pen and paper can do the job. No matter the method, keep a copy of your home inventory in a safe place.

6. Hurricane Wilma

Year: 2005

Areas affected: Florida

Insured losses (then): $10.3 billion

Insured losses (in 2011 dollars): $11.9 billion

Disaster insurance tip: The IRS allows taxpayers who itemize to deduct casualty losses related to disasters such as floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and even volcanic eruptions. The calculations can get tricky. In general, to figure your deduction you’ll need to subtract any insurance reimbursements from your loss, then subtract $100 for each casualty that occurs during the year, and then subtract 10% of your adjustable gross income. Any leftover amount is your deductible casualty loss. Special tax rules apply to losses incurred in federally declared disaster areas.

7. Hurricane Charley

Year: 2004

Areas affected: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina

Insured losses (then): $7.5 billion

Insured losses (in 2011 dollars): $8.9 billion

Disaster insurance tip: Keep important documents secure from the ravages of disaster. It’s usually best to stash wills, deeds, birth certificates, marriage licenses and the like away from home, such as in a bank safe-deposit box. If you prefer to have originals close at hand, invest in a fireproof and waterproof safe. Online backup services, such as Mozy.com and Carbonite.com, allow you, for a fee, to preserve your electronic files in the event computers and other devices are destroyed.

8. Hurricane Ivan

Year: 2004

Areas affected: Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia

Insured losses (then): $7.1 billion

Insured losses (in 2011 dollars): $8.5 billion

Disaster insurance tip: Preparation is the key to weathering any calamity. Long before disaster strikes, review your home, auto and life insurance to ensure that policies are up to date. Keep a list of important phone numbers handy, including the direct line to your insurance agent. Devise an evacuation plan for your family, and put together an emergency kit. Useful items include a portable radio, a rechargeable lantern and perhaps even a wad of cash in case you can’t get to a bank.

9. Hurricane Hugo

Year: 1989

Areas affected: Georgia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands

Insured losses (then): $4.2 billion

Insured losses (in 2011 dollars): $7.6 billion

Disaster insurance tip: Don’t delay until the last minute to look into disaster insurance. There are often mandatory waiting periods before a policy kicks in. With flood insurance, for example, the wait is usually 30 days. Foot-dragging can prove costly. Just an inch of floodwater can cause about $21,000 in damage to a typical home.

10. Hurricane Rita

Year: 2005

Areas affected: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas

Insured losses (then): $5.6 billion

Insured losses (in 2011 dollars): $6.5 billion

Disaster insurance tip: Having the right insurance coverage in place is indispensible in the event of a disaster, but you shouldn’t pay a penny more in premiums than necessary. There are three easy ways to save on home and auto insurance. First, shop around. Different carriers offer different rates. Second, ask about multi-policy discounts, claims-free discounts and others. Third, raise your deductible to the highest amount you can afford.