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The 10 costliest U.S. earthquakes

Big earthquakes occur less frequently than major storms, but their devastation can linger in the record books for centuries.

Quakes and other geological events were the fifth most costly type of disaster to strike the U.S. in the last 20 years, behind hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms and even terrorism.

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Standard home, renters and business insurance policies do not cover earthquake damage. Coverage is available through an endorsement -- a policy add-on -- or a separate earthquake insurance policy.

In a 2013 nationwide poll of homeowners by the Insurance Information Institute, just 10 percent said they had earthquake insurance. In California, where most of the costliest earthquakes have occurred, just 12 percent of homes covered by fire insurance are also covered for earthquakes, according to the California Earthquake Authority.

Despite the lack of coverage, another big quake in the Golden State is inevitable. In a 2008 earthquake forecast, scientists said there was a 99 percent chance of a 6.7 magnitude or greater earthquake in California by 2028.

Here are the 10 costliest U.S. earthquakes since 1900, based on insured property losses, according to Munich Re and Geo Risks Research. The figures are adjusted for inflation to 2011 dollars and include agricultural, offshore, marine, aviation and National Flood Insurance Program losses.

10. The 2003 San Simeon earthquake: Atascadero, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and San Simeon, Calif., Dec. 22, 2003

Insured losses: $50 million. Deaths: 2.

The magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck at 11:15 a.m. near the coastal town of San Simeon, about 240 miles north of Los Angeles. Some 40 buildings collapsed or suffered severe damage in nearby Paso Robles, where the streets were bustling with holiday shoppers when the shaking began. Two pedestrians were killed when the city's landmark clock tower collapsed. Small fires broke out at Cambria and Morro Bay, and the Oceano airport was closed temporarily because of a cracked runway.

Damage from the Northridge earthquake
Examining damage from the Northridge, Calif., earthquake

9. The 2006 Hawaii earthquake: Big Island, Kailua Kona, Oahu and Honolulu, Hawaii, Oct. 15, 2006

Insured losses: $55 million. Deaths: None.

Tourists and residents alike got an abrupt wakeup call when this 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck at 7:07 a.m. and in seconds turned dream vacations into nightmares. The temblor occurred offshore about 10 miles northwest of Kailua Kona. More than 1,100 buildings on the islands were damaged, and many people suffered minor injuries. Landslides blocked roads, and power outages occurred throughout the islands. More than a dozen aftershocks followed, including one measuring 5.8 magnitude.

8. The 2000 Napa earthquake: Napa, Calif., Sept. 3, 2000

Insured losses: $65 million. Deaths: None.

Although it measured only 5.2 magnitude, the earthquake packed a powerful punch in Napa because the city sits on soft soil. The temblor shook residents awake at 1:36 in the morning and ruptured water mains, shattered windows and damaged about 200 buildings in the heart of California's Wine Country. Dozens of residents were injured.

7. The 2010 Baja California earthquake: Calexico, El Centro, Imperial, Los Angeles and San Diego, Calif.; Phoenix and Yuma, Ariz., April 4, 2010

Insured losses: $105 million. Deaths: None.

Centered in northern Baja California, about 40 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border, the magnitude 7.2 earthquake rattled Southern California and Arizona on Easter Sunday. The 3:40 p.m. quake knocked down buildings in border towns, broke water mains and caused temporary closure of the U.S.-Mexican port of entry.

6. The 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake: Los Angeles and Whittier, Calif., Oct. 1-4, 1987

Insured losses: $150 million. Deaths: 8.

The 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck at 7:42 a.m. near Whittier, Richard Nixon's hometown south of Los Angeles. Dozens of buildings were severely damaged or destroyed in the town's shopping district, and more than 100 single-family homes and 1,000 apartment units were destroyed in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties. Another 500 houses and 2,000 apartment units were damaged. Aftershocks rattled Southern California for days, and hundreds of people afraid to return home camped out in parks.

5. The 1964 Alaska earthquake: Anchorage, Cordova, Homer, Kodiak Island, Portage, Seward, Valdez, Whittier and Seldovia, Alaska; Hawaii, March 27-28, 1964

Insured losses: $325 million. Deaths: 130.

Centered in Prince William Sound, the magnitude 9.2 earthquake was the largest ever recorded in North America, and the tsunami it triggered was the most destructive to ever hit the U.S. Pacific Coast. The shaking began at 5:36 p.m. and lasted for about four minutes, toppling buildings in small towns and devastating much of downtown Anchorage. Landslides swept away homes and businesses. The tsunami wiped out coastal towns along Prince William Sound and Kodiak Island and wreaked havoc along the Washington, Oregon and California coasts, as well as Hawaii.

4. The 2001 Nisqually earthquake: Olympia, Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.; Oregon, Feb. 28, 2001

Insured losses: $380 million. Deaths: 1.

The 6.8 magnitude earthquake shook Puget Sound at 10:54 a.m. Old buildings collapsed in historic Pioneer Square in Seattle and the Capitol Hill area of Olympia, Washington's state capital. Two runways at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport cracked and windows in a control tower shattered, forcing a major reduction in flight operations.

3. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake: Berkeley, Loma Prieta, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Silicon Valley, Oct. 17, 1989

Insured losses: $1.7 billion. Deaths: 70.

Game 3 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A's was about to begin at Candlestick Park when the 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit the San Francisco and Monterey Bay region. Centered near Loma Prieta Peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the quake struck at 5:04 p.m. just as millions of Americans were tuning in to watch the game on TV. The temblor damaged more than 18,000 homes and 2,500 businesses and killed dozens of people.

Most of the deaths occurred when the upper deck of the Cypress Street Viaduct on the Nimitz Freeway near Oakland collapsed, crushing cars on the lower deck. An upper-deck section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge also collapsed, killing one person. The World Series was postponed for 10 days.

2. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake: San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Rosa, Calif., April, 18, 1906

Insured losses: $4.1 billion. Deaths: 3,000.

The famous earthquake jolted the city awake at 5:12 a.m., and the violent shaking lasted about a minute. The quake toppled buildings, ignited fires and ruptured water mains, leaving firefighters with no ammunition to battle the blazes. The fires burned for three days and together with the earthquake destroyed 28,000 buildings. Of San Francisco's then-population of 400,000, 225,000 people were left homeless. Recent estimates peg the earthquake's magnitude at 7.7 or 7.9.

1. The 1994 Northridge earthquake: Los Angeles, Northridge, Orange, San Fernando Valley and Ventura, Calif., Jan. 17, 1994

Insured losses: $23.3 billion. Deaths: 60.

The Northridge earthquake ranks as the fifth most costly U.S. disaster overall, after Hurricane Katrina, the attacks on the World Trade Center and Hurricanes Sandy and Andrew.

More than 40,000 homes, businesses, apartment complexes and government buildings were damaged, and 7,000 people were injured when the magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck at 4:30 a.m. Overpasses collapsed and closed sections of critical highways, including the Santa Monica Freeway. Fires broke out in the San Fernando Valley and in Malibu and Venice. Some 20,000 people were left homeless.

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