An increasing number of Lawrence residents are buying earthquake insurance for their homes because of a widely publicized prediction that a major temblor could strike southeastern Missouri in early December and cause damage here.
"I'd say 30 to 40 percent of our homeowner policy holders either had it already or are planning to add it," said Jo Buzzard, an insurance agent for American Family Insurance Co., 3120 Mesa Way.
Buzzard and other local insurance agents said they have been receiving daily inquiries from homeowners about earthquake insurance, which is not incuded in most home or apartment insurance policies.
Many of the calls were triggered by earthquake insurance information that some local agents have mailed to their customers.
Insurance agents say they are only informing their customers about the details of earthquake insurance, but the local mailings and resulting public concern has Don Steeples, deputy director of the Kansas Geological Survey, shaking his head.
"Some insurance companies are taking advantage of the hysteria to sell more earthquake insurance, and they do not expect to take a loss financially," Steeples said in a press release last week.
STEEPLES said he released the statement in response to a barrage of telephone calls he has received about the quake prediction. Steeples says the earthquake that New Mexico climatologist Iben Browning predicted would hit the Midwest next month probably would have little effect in Kansas.
Browning has said there's a 50 percent chance of a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault within 48 hours of Dec. 3 and between latitudes 30-60 degrees in the northern hemisphere.
The New Madrid fault extends about 150 miles from northeastern Arkansas to southwestern Indiana. The fault is more than 300 miles from Lawrence.
"If they had a magnitude 7 (on the Richter scale) down there, we'd feel it here, but there would be no significant damage because we're too far away," Steeples said.
"The same thing that will make your house withstand a 100-mph straight line wind will make your house withstand any earthquake that we'll have here," he said.
"THE CHANCES are 1 in 10,000 that there will be an earthquake on December 3 higher than a 6.5," said Steeples, who does not consider Browning's prediction credible.
"Browning's other predictions have shown that his success rate is no better than one could obtain by throwing darts at a calender," he said.
Earthquakes are measured on the open-ended Richter Scale. The scale is logarithmic, so an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 would be 10 times as powerful as an earthquake with a 6.5 magnitude on the scale.
Browning predicted that the Dec. 3 quake would have a magnitude measuring from 6.5 to 7.5 on the scale.
Steeples said a 7.5 temblor would be felt here, but would cause only slight damage.
JANE FREEMAN, office manager of State Farm Insurance at 543 Lawrence Ave., said the office in early October mailed more than 600 earthquake insurance fliers to customers.
"We wanted to make sure our policy holders were prepared," she said.
"And we just wanted to make sure they were well-informed about earthquake insurance details."
Freeman said many customers have purchased earthquake insurance because it is relatively inexpensive in this part of the country, and because the date of the predicted quake has loomed closer.
She said annual earthquake insurance costs 20-30 cents per $1,000 of home value per month, or about $10-$15 annually. Apartment rates are lower.
Local earthquake insurance deductibles range from 2 to 5 percent of the value of the home, agents said.
"That's pretty good considering that (annual) premiums in California are $1,000 and deductibles are 20 percent," Buzzard said.
BUT HOME owners may not be alone in taking precautions for a possible Midwestern earthquake.
"I would say probably at least 30 percent of our (home) loans could have earthquake insurance included," said Brian McFall, loan officer at FirstBank, 2710 Iowa.
McFall said he has seen an increase in the number of home loans for which the lender has required the home buyer to purchase earthquake insurance.
However, McFall said he did not know if the increase was because of the predicted quake.
"This (concern) is totally out of control," said Steeples, who has been averaging three or four calls per day about the quake.
"It's taken a quarter of my time in the last six weeks," he said.
Steeples says he has received calls from reporters, "little old ladies who are terrified," small businesses and city government officials thoughout eastern Kansas, who ask if they should obtain earthquake insurance or take other precautions.
"I wouldn't tell anyone to purchase earthquake insurance," he said.
BROWNING'S prediction is based on tidal gravitational forces of the sun and the moon, which he says will be at a 27-year peak in early December.
Steeples and others at the Kansas Geological Survey dismiss the claim, saying the forces required to cause an earthquake are much greater than those hypothesized by Browning, and because similar gravitational "peaks" occur on a daily basis.