Damage from Tuesday's earthquake could prove to be burdensome for property owners, given that standard homeowner and business insurance typically doesn't cover earthquakes.

And people considering buying earthquake insurance right now likely will have to wait for a while.

It isn't clear how many homeowners and businesses in Virginia have earthquake coverage, but industry insiders say it likely isn't a significant percentage.

Even in earthquake-prone California, only about one in eight residents have earthquake coverage, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

In Virginia, "I would say a heavy majority of people do not have it," said Steve White, an insurance counselor with AAA Mid-Atlantic. "I have been in the business for 12 years now, and I have had only one request for it."

Damage from this week's quake could be $200 million to $300 million on the East Coast, the Insurance Information Institute reported, based on estimates from EQECAT, a firm that helps insurers determine catastrophe risks.

Earthquake insurance is typically offered only as a supplement or "endorsement," added to an existing homeowner's or renter's policy, in the same way that coverage for losses such as identify theft or jewelry theft are add-ons to a standard policy. Flood insurance, on the other hand, is typically sold as a separate policy.

This week's temblor did prompt some local property owners to inquire about getting earthquake insurance.

"My father had a saying about insurance: You have always got too much insurance until you need it," said Michael Grim, a Richmond resident who owns several rental properties in the area.

After the earthquake, Grim said he inquired about getting earthquake insurance for his home and other properties, but he was told he'd have to wait.

The same thing happened to Chesterfield County resident John Salay.

Salay said he used to have earthquake coverage for his home, but he dropped the rider a few years ago at the suggestion of his insurance agent's office. He recalls that the premium was "very inexpensive."

After the quake, Salay has reconsidered that decision. Yet when he called his insurance provider this week about getting coverage, he was told it isn't being offered right now.

Some insurance companies said they have restricted sales of earthquake coverage for a month or more, in part to avoid having to pay claims for the aftershocks that may come from this week's quake.

AAA has restricted sales until 30 days after Tuesday's earthquake, White said. "Pretty much all carriers are doing that," he said. "They are not going to cover something that has already occurred."

The Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia put a 60-day moratorium on sales of earthquake coverage, until Oct. 23rd.

"We have had a lot of phone calls from policy holders — most of them have not purchased the additional coverage," said Jeff Wrobel, the company's executive vice president.

"A few of them have, and we are working through that with folks. We have had some (reports of) chimney cracks, cracks in the walls, and foundation cracks, throughout the state."

Because damaging earthquakes are a rare event in Virginia, property owners have to make a decision about whether the risk is worth the additional cost of earthquake insurance, experts said.

Standard homeowner policies also may cover some perils arising from earthquakes such as a fire resulting from broken gas lines.

"The decision anyone needs to make is, what is their appetite for a particular risk?" Wrobel said. "What is the likelihood of it occurring? What is the potential damage if it does occur, and what is the cost associated with it?"

Premium costs vary depending on factors such as the value and age of a home. Deductibles, the amount a property owner has to pay before insurance kicks in, can vary from 2 percent to 25 percent of the replacement value of the damaged property.

White said he did some research this week and found that earthquake insurance on a $175,000 home with a 2 percent deductible, or $3,500, would come with a premium of $85 per year.

Cars and other vehicles are covered for earthquake damage by comprehensive auto insurance, which also provides coverage for flood and hurricane damage.

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