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10 Costliest Catastrophes in the U.S.

They destroy homes and vehicles, displace families and interrupt business. The question is, who pays?

The 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the Mid-Atlantic states on August 23 was a vivid reminder that disasters can strike without warning. Having the right insurance is important to your personal finances. If an event similar to the historic San Francisco earthquake of 1906 were to strike today, insured losses would top $100 billion, estimates AIR Worldwide, a risk-modeling firm. Back then, however, little property was insured.

SEE ALSO: SLIDE SHOW: Top 10 States Most at Risk of Disaster

But Americans seem to have learned their lesson. Our ranking here of the ten costliest catastrophes to hit the U.S. based on insured losses is dominated entirely by events of the past two decades. Even a recent catastrophe, such as 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, would be significantly more expensive if it occurred now. Most catastrophes on the list resulted from natural disasters, though one unnatural disaster also earned a spot.

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With each event, you'll find our guidance on how to best protect yourself against similar losses.

Rankings reflect insured losses for disasters (since 1989) that affected a significant number of policyholders and insurers. Data was provided by ISO's Property Claims Services unit, which helps assess risk for the insurance industry.

1. Hurricane Katrina

Year: 2005

Areas affected: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee

Insured losses (then): $41.1 billion

Insured losses (in 2011 dollars): $47.5 billion

Disaster insurance tip: Most homeowners insurance policies exclude floods. Check yours. The National Flood Insurance Program offers supplemental flood coverage to anyone in the U.S. The average flood premium is about $600 a year. Basic policies for low- to moderate-risk areas start at $129.

2. Hurricane Andrew

Year: 1992

Areas affected: Florida, Louisiana

Insured losses (then): $15.5 billion

Insured losses (in 2011 dollars): $24.9 billion

Disaster insurance tip: Mold is a four-letter word in the insurance business. If water enters your home, be it due to wind-driven rain, rising floodwaters or even a leaky pipe, work quickly to dry out wet spots and prevent future infiltration. Moisture is the key to mold growth. Also think twice before submitting a small water-related claim. Some insurers might raise premiums or even cancel coverage for fear the minor water damage will turn into a major mold cleanup.

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