What If “The Big One” Hits?

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Lesley Owens, State Farm Agent

Lesley Owens, State Farm Agent
Lesley Owens, State Farm Agent

The Roanoke Valley was shaken recently by an earthquake – yes, an earthquake – that rattled homes from Vinton to Salem.  Julie Dutton, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, said the epicenter of the quake was “in the Cave Spring area near Garst Mill Road, with a reported magnitude of 3.0.”

In Salem’s Hidden Valley neighborhood, a resident was awakened after 4:00 a.m. by “deep reverberating sounds.”  Her bed was “moving back and forth and it felt like the entire house was shaking.”  This went on for several seconds and the most frightening part for her was “not knowing what was going on,” having been awakened suddenly out of a “deep sleep,” she remarked. Another resident in The Gardens subdivision off Cotton Hill Road ran outside, hearing a “boom” and thinking a plane might have gone down.

While there were no reports of injury or property damage from the recent earthquake, homeowners might want to prepare for a bigger one. Lesley Owens, a State Farm Agent in the Roanoke Valley, said that to be insured for such damages [with State Farm] occurring from an earthquake, homeowners would need to have an endorsement for earthquake coverage, along with their standard policy.

The additional coverage generally ranges from $90 to $150 annually, depending on factors like the type of home and its location.  If the homeowner looks at the additional expense from a  weekly standpoint, the cost generally ranges from $1.73 to $2.88.

Regardless of what insurance company homeowners have their policy with, it’s a good idea for them to contact an agent and ask for a review to ensure that they have adequate coverage for earthquake or other forms of destruction.  “A little advance planning would help a family weather such a disaster a little more safely and securely,” said Owens.

State Farm has 37,340 homeowners with policies in Roanoke and surrounding areas; of those only 427 (only 1.14%) have their homes and contents protected by an earthquake endorsement, along with their standard homeowner policy. Owens said that in spite of the the recent tremors, State Farm has not seen an increase in the number of homeowners who have earthquake coverage.

While there is no crystal ball to predict when a major earthquake will occur in this area in the future, history provides clues.  Since February 1774, there have been more than 20 major earthquakes in Virginia, including one with a magnitude of 4.3, centered at Radford on May 3, 1897, which reportedly did extensive damage to many chimneys and walls throughout Southwest Virginia.  Felt as far south as Winston-Salem, North Carolina, this was a prelude to the earthquake on May 31, 1897, the most intense and widespread earthquake in Virginia in historical times  – and the second largest earthquake in the eastern United States over the last 200 years.

It covered an area of 280,000 square miles and was most severely felt in Giles County, where springs ceased to flow, a train was derailed, walls of brick homes were cracked, and chimneys were badly damaged. Aftershocks continued through June 6, 1897 and the estimated magnitude was 5.8-5.9.

If Virginia today experienced an earthquake of such magnitude, the consequences could be considerably more serious because of tall buildings and the close housing typical in subdivisions.

Professors James Martin and Martin Chapman founded the Earthquake Engineering Center for the Southeastern U.S. (ECSUS) at Virginia Tech in January 2000.  Their mission is to prepare for likely seismic events and to reduce severe earthquake damage in the Southeast, by developing and disseminating critical seismic data.  Despite the potential for major earthquakes in the future, there had been minimal studies or emergency response plans devised.

Is your family prepared if an earthquake of a greater magnitude hits our area?  Perhaps an earthquake rider on a homeowner’s policy is something worth considering.