Earthquakes have been around for thousands of years, but not many people know exactly what causes them. Earth’s tectonic plates are constantly moving, at times even colliding with one another. This produces a tremendous amount of energy in the earth’s surface, creating huge vibrations, leading to earthquakes. Although we only hear about the worst occurrences, thousands of earthquakes actually take place each year.
Where do earthquake most often occur?
Earthquakes can strike anywhere but they are particularly likely to happen near a fault line (a place where two tectonic plates meet). The largest quakes will usually occur when two plates collide. For this reason, regions such as New Zealand, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Japan, the Americas and Indonesia are highly prone to earthquakes.
World’s Worst Quakes
The following earthquakes take precedence as some of the absolute worst of recent times.
- Valdivia, Chile: (May 22, 1960) With a magnitude of 9.5 on the Richter scale, this disaster goes down as one of the worst quakes ever. It killed 1,655 people, injured 3,000 and caused up to $550 million worth of damage to Chile. It also spawned a destructive tsunami that destroyed parts of Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines and triggered a nearby volcanic eruption too.
- Sumatra, Indonesia: (December 26, 2004) The resulting Tsunami of this 9.1 rated earthquake killed 227,900 people and displaced a further 1.7 million. The earthquake is reported to have affected over 14 countries, with its effects seen as far away as Antarctica and North Africa.
- Sendai, Japan: (March 11, 2011) This colossal earthquake and ensuing tsunami is recorded as the costliest natural disaster of all time. In addition to triggering a meltdown at the Fukoshima nuclear plant (resulting in a radiation leak) over 15,891 people lost their lives and a further 2,500 are still reported missing.
- Christchurch, New Zealand: (February, 22, 2011) Closer to home, this earthquake came just six months after an even more powerful earthquake. Occurring on a fault line that was shallow and close to the city, this quake was especially destructive, killing 185 people and injuring several thousand.
- Anchorage, Alaska: (March, 27, 1964) As North America’s worst earthquake (and the second largest ever measured) this magnitude 9.2 quake ripped apart Alaska’s landscape. Despite the devastation, only 139 people died as the earthquake hit on Good Friday, when most people were at home or church.
Is it safe to travel to destinations where Earthquakes occur?
Luckily, major earthquakes occur only a few times a year and the odds of an earthquake occurring during a short visit are unlikely. Additionally, modern technology continues to improve and has made it easier to predict when and where an earthquake is likely to occur.
Does travel insurance cover earthquakes?
If an earthquake has occurred at your holiday destination either before or after you’ve left home, it’s worth understanding the terms of your cover.
When you’re not covered
- Travel against warnings: If you intentionally put yourself in harm’s way and travel to a country or region against governmental travel advice, you do so at your own peril. You will not be covered for anything that relates to the travel warning. For instance, if you travelled to Turkey against terrorism warnings and were injured in an act of terrorism, you would not be covered.
- Known events: Once an event is known in the mass media (i.e. big tremors have begun, a snow storm is forecasted or a volcano has erupted) you wouldn’t be eligible to buy cover for any losses incurred, or claim to cancel your trip. Insurers will set cut-off dates, for instance travellers affected by the Nepal earthquake who had purchased cover prior to April 25, 2015 were eligible to claim. After the 25th, you could no longer purchase cover for the Nepal earthquake event.
- Insufficient cover: Remember that Basic (or medical only) policies would cover for any medical claims in regards to earthquakes, but would not cover travel delays, lost luggage or trip cancellation as a result of an earthquake.
- Claim for any reason: There would be no cover if your existing travel plans were not directly affected by the earthquake or if you just had a change of heart about your trip.
- Accomodation cover: Your place of residence would have to be uninhabitable for you to make a claim (i.e. the hotel not meeting expectations or a broken pool would not suffice).
When you are covered
If the earthquake was not a known event when you bought your policy you would be covered for:
- Cancellation (before you’ve left): If you’ve not left yet, benefits will be paid if the earthquake forces you to cancel and claim for out of pocket expenses (provided the policy was purchased prior to the cancellation).
- Cancellation (when already abroad): If you are within the earthquake zone you will be covered for travel and accommodation costs involved in moving to new accommodation (if your booked accommodation is deemed uninhabitable). If your flights have been cancelled you would also be covered for any additional flight costs.
- Medical costs: Should you incur any injuries as a result of an earthquake, benefits would be paid towards your treatment.
- Emergency medical evacuation and repatriation: In the event that you require emergency evacuation or medical treatment cannot be administered locally you would be evacuated to the nearest medical facility. Repatriation costs would also be covered In the event of your death.
Natural Disasters Claim tips:
- Get it down on paper: If your flights have been cancelled or delayed due to an earthquake be sure to get any written proof of such events from your airline.
- Contact your insurer: Before you go ahead and pay for any extra accommodation or flights check in with your insurer that they will cover any added costs.
- Keep receipts: Your insurer will need some type of proof of payment in order to pay out your claim. Hold onto any boarding passes, receipts or credit card statements
What should I do in an earthquake?
The recent devastating earthquake in Nepal killed and displaced thousands of people. Whilst a tremor this size is said to occur only once every hundred years, the quake had catastrophic consequences due to Nepal’s poorly built infrastructure. Whilst the odds of getting caught in an earthquake on holidays are unlikely, it’s always good to prepare for the worst. With popular tourist destinations such as Japan, Nepal and Indonesia all bearing the brunt of sizable earthquakes it’s important to have the facts and understand any necessary safety procedures.
Firstly, if you’re travelling to an earthquake prone region you should buy travel insurance and get a good understanding of the fine print. As well, make sure you’re registered at Smartraveller. Get to know the emergency phone numbers procedures for the region and keep your passport and photo ID secured or with you at all times. If you happen to be living overseas when an earthquake strikes an emergency back-up plan can be a very wise idea.
Earthquake survival tips will vary but it’s worth understanding the local safety codes. For instance, in countries with modern infrastructure, such as Japan, it’s thought that the best place to be during an earthquake is under a table in the middle of a room. On the other hand, in countries with structurally unsound buildings, the rule of thumb is to evacuate immediately. Brushing up on the area’s safety procedures can make all the difference when it comes to your security.
Depending on the state of disaster around you it may be advisable to return home immediately. If you are safe but have found yourself stranded due to cancelled flights and damaged infrastructure, you may incur significant accommodation and travel costs. Although these would be reimbursed by travel insurance, it’s advisable to keep any additional expenses to a reasonable minimum and hold on to your receipts.
No matter how experienced or conscientious a traveller you are, an unpredictable event such as an earthquake can turn your holiday upside-down. Making sure you’ve got travel insurance and understanding any significant exclusions can be the first step in managing a natural disaster.