New studies of earthquakes postulate ways in which stable fault segments can join to create large magnitude events—an assumption not captured in existing earthquake catastrophe models. Damage from the earthquake that struck central Italy on Aug. 24 and the subsequent aftershocks that followed is still being assessed. But RMS asserts that insurance losses will be limited because of property values and the lack of coverage.

“A full picture of the damage will likely take several days, but it is clear there is little higher value property in the towns and villages affected by the area of stronger shaking, which will limit insurance losses as residential properties are generally uninsured for earthquake,” Robert Muir-Wood, RMS chief research officer, said in prepared remarks.

The early morning earthquake struck the Umbria region of Italy, killing dozens of people. But as the catastrophe modeling firm noted, the smaller towns and villages in the area have older masonry rubble houses, which are vulnerable to collapse in earthquake shaking.

RMS said it expects the death toll to rise to between 250 and 350 people, due, in part, to the poor building quality in the small towns and villages.

Catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide noted that these smaller, older towns are popular tourist destinations. The town of Amatrice, for example, was seeing a surge in population for the 50th annual Festival of the Spaghetti all’Amatriciana on Aug. 27-28. Things could have been worse, AIR Worldwide said, because Amatrice and nearby towns usually draw tens of thousands of people during the summer and that creates risks of higher fatality rates.

AIR Worldwide noted that most building in Italy are made of unreinforced masonry, reinforced masonry or reinforced concrete construction, and most were built before substantial seismic building codes and modern construction technology came into play.

“The risk of collapse during an earthquake for [buildings] erected prior to 1980 is very high,” AIR Worldwide said. It noted that 1996 seismic codes added more restrictions and standards, though Italy’s seismic codes did not change substantially until 2003.

In terms of structures in areas hardest hit by the Aug. 24 earthquake, the United States Geological Survey said there are a mix of resistant and non-resistant structures to deal with.

Source: RMS, AIR Worldwide