Hawaii Volcano Victims May Face Insurance Crisis

May 7, 2018, 1:27 PM UTC

As lava from the Kilauea volcano has devoured at least 26 homes in Hawaii, residents in at-risk zones are wondering if they’re covered for the damage. They may not be.

While you can get insurance for most natural disasters, including floods and earthquakes, specific insurance for volcanic or lava damage is exceptionally rare. So it’s really going to come down to their homeowner’s policy and their underwriter.

“As far as earthquake coverage or specifically named like a volcanic eruption, no most people would not have that kind of coverage,” Marc Dixon, an Allstate insurance agent who services the Big Island, tells Hawaii News Now.

As odd as it might sound, the best case scenario of a worst case situation for affected homeowners is for the lava to burn the house down. That could trigger the fire coverage of a normal home owner’s policy.

Because residents of the Big Island chose to move to a place that has an active volcano, insurers take the stance that they knew the risks. But there are a couple of straws of hope for those people to grasp.

First, insurance companies have had their share of public relations hits over the past year, particularly after last year’s hurricanes. The number of houses destroyed by lava so far is fairly low. Covering the losses, even if they had a loophole to avoid doing so could earn the industry some goodwill with the general public. That said, though, 1,700 people have had to flee their homes so far and the number of destroyed homes could go up significantly before the crisis is over.

There’s also the chance of help from the federal or state government, which could declare an emergency, making homeowners eligible for a low-interest loan from FEMA.

The volcanic activity has now been going on for a week in Hawaii and experts say it’s impossible to predict how long it will continues. As of Sunday morning, though, lava was flowing farther than it did in the eruption’s first days, indicating magma was still present and the end wasn’t yet in sight.