100 years of earthquakes since the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906

2006/04/13

Reinsurance

Many people see the earth as a symbol of security and solidity, but in certain areas it is subject to massive shaking from time to time. Huge tectonic plates are suddenly set in motion, often only for seconds, and seldom for longer than a minute. The earthquake shock may be followed by a second catastrophe: a fierce firestorm as in San Francisco in 1906, for example, or a tsunami as in the Indian Ocean in 2004, or a cold winter as in Pakistan in 2005.

In the last 100 years (see the appendix for the respective data), the 35 most significant earthquakes claimed the lives of more than 1.4 million people, the highest death tolls being in China in 1920 (235,000) and 1976 (242,000). The submarine earthquake on 26 December 2004 and the subsequent tsunami in the Indian Ocean resulted in 210,000 deaths. Measuring 9.0 on the Richter Scale, this quake was not only one of the strongest earthquakes since 1906, it also had the most far-reaching effects. Coastal settlements thousands of kilometres from the epicentre and as far away as the Horn of Africa were destroyed by the tsunami waves.

All the most significant earthquakes since 1906 have occurred on the geologically known plate boundaries along the Pacific coasts of North and South America and in the seismically active zone reaching from the western Mediterranean to Japan. In these areas, we find megacities like Tokyo and the conurbations of San Francisco/Los Angeles. The Munich Re Group with its team of geoscientists analyses the loss potentials particularly from the perspective of the people at risk and the concentrations of values.

San Francisco Earthquake on 18 April 1906: To mark the 100th anniversary of this event, Munich Re has made background information and historical material available on its website, including a photo documentation and an article on the situation three days after the quake.

Munich Re's experts will be taking part in the 100th Anniversary Earthquake Conference in San Francisco from 18 to 22 April: Dr. Anselm Smolka, Head of Geophysical and Hydrological Risks at Munich Re's Geo Risks Research, will be giving a paper that compares the 1906 earthquake with Hurricane Katrina, turning the spotlight on the parallels, the differences, and the effects on the insurance industry .

Munich Re already reported on the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and its effects in the press release published on 29 December 2005 and addressed the risk potential in megacities during a press workshop on 11 January 2005. Information on these can be found at www.munichre.com.

Münchener Rückversicherungs-Gesellschaft
signed Dr. Jeworrek            signed Küppers

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Further Information

For media inquiries please contact:
Dr. Stefan Peschel
Phone
+49 (89) 38 91-29 34
Questions of a scientific nature should be addressed to
Peter Höppe
Head of Geo Risks Research/Corporate Climate Centre
Munich Re (until 31.12.2017)
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