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10 states most at risk of disaster

They may be great places to live, but they've taken some devastating hits over the years. Check out your insurance coverage if you call one of these states home.

By Cameron Huddleston, Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine

Devastation in Springfield, Mass., the day after a tornado hit © Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe/Getty Images
Hitting you where you live

Deadly tornadoes ripped through the Midwest in late May, from Minnesota to Oklahoma -- devastating Joplin, Mo., on May 22, in particular. On June 2, twisters touched down in central and western Massachusetts, killing three. And about a month earlier, dozens of tornadoes hit the southeastern United States, leaving a wide swath of property destruction and killing more than 250 people -- the worst series of such storms in almost 40 years. These grim scenes were a reminder that Americans should always be prepared for common disasters like twisters, floods, hurricanes, wildfires and winter storms.

Where have these damaging events occurred most frequently and severely? Kiplinger.com worked with ISO, a leading source of insurance risk information, to identify the 10 states that have suffered the biggest property losses from disasters over the past decade. Do you have enough insurance?

 
A man pushes his bicycle through flood waters near the Superdome in New Orleans © Eric Gay/AP
Louisiana

The Pelican State has the unfortunate distinction of being the most disaster-prone state in the nation, largely because of Hurricane Katrina, which was the costliest disaster in U.S. history. Many of Katrina's victims discovered they didn't have enough insurance to cover the damage from the August 2005 hurricane. Make sure you have enough coverage before storm season strikes.

Key West residents hold on to each other as they battle winds from Hurricane Georges in Key West, Fla., in Sept. 1998 © Dave Martin/AP
Florida

The Sunshine State, with long coasts on both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, gets battered by hurricanes and tropical storms in late summer and early fall. It suffered through four major hurricanes (a record) in 2004 alone. It also has the highest number of tornadoes per square mile of any state. (Texas has more tornadoes overall, but is much larger.) Central Florida is known as the lightning capital of the nation. If you live in Florida, we recommend that you do a thorough inventory of your insurance policies to make sure there are no gaps in storm-related coverage.

Bobby Taylor uses a kayak to evacuate after his neighborhood was overtaken by water in Surfside Beach, Texas © Eric Gay/AP
Texas

Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are as common as tumbleweed in the Lone Star State. Cities on or near the coast, such as Galveston and Houston, are often in the bull's-eye of destructive hurricanes that gain strength over the Gulf of Mexico, such as Hurricane Ike in 2008. If you live in a state plagued with so many different types of disasters, it's crucial to know exactly what your insurance policy covers.

Emergency crews arrive after the fall of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City © Shawn Baldwin/AP
New York

The horrible death toll and destruction of property in the 9/11 terrorist attack makes the Empire State one of the 10 with the highest casualty losses of the past decade. But the state, which borders the Great Lakes as well as the Atlantic Ocean, also has suffered its share of havoc from heavy snowfalls over the past two winters.

Woman walks through destruction of aftermath of hurricane Katrina © Rob Carr/AP
Mississippi

The Magnolia State, like the other states on the Gulf Coast, has seen some major hurricanes over the years. It was hit hard by Katrina, with the storm surge and heavy rains causing extensive flooding. Many unfortunate Mississippi homeowners discovered insurance doesn't cover flood damage -- you have to buy a separate policy.

Yolanda Suarez talks on her cellphone in what is left of the bedroom of her mobile home in Seminole, Okla., after a tornado in May 2010 © Sue Ogrocki/AP
Oklahoma

Two words for the Sooner State: Tornado Alley. Severe storms and twisters are so much a part of the state's weather that the National Severe Storms Laboratory and Storm Prediction Center are located here. Most Oklahomans know how to protect themselves if a cyclone has been spotted. We recommend that homeowners in tornado-prone states set aside an emergency fund. They should also take photos of all valuables on which they might have to make an insurance claim if disaster strikes.

The remains of a collapsed building sit on the beach Sept. 18, 2004, in Orange Beach, Alabama © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Alabama

The tornado toll in Alabama -- hundreds were killed or injured in late April -- illustrated one danger of living in the Yellowhammer State. The state also is at major risk of Gulf Coast hurricanes, even in inland areas. In states where storm damage is common, we recommend that homeowners know all the ins and outs of the insurance claims process.

Flames explode through dry grasses July 29, 2010 in Leona Valley, Calif. © Dave Mills/AP
California

The Golden State is home to more natural disaster threats than most states: floods, earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and strong Santa Ana winds that fuel wildfires. See "When Disaster is at Your Doorstep" to learn what the 2003 and 2007 California wildfires can teach you about protecting your possessions.

Semi trucks disappear into the snow as they travel along I-70 near Boonville, Mo., during a storm on Feb. 1, 2011 © L.G. Patterson/AP
Missouri

The Show Me State, along with Texas and Oklahoma, sees a big share of the country's tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. Missouri winters can be bitterly cold, accompanied by hazardous snow and ice storms. Missouri homeowners can avoid cold-weather insurance claims, though, by following some simple steps.

A car is stranded underneath a fallen light pole & tree in Worthington, Ohio, after extreme winds from the remnants of Hurricane Ike in Sept. 2008 © Kiichiro Sato/AP
Ohio

Lake-effect snowstorms from the Great Lakes blanket northern Ohio regularly in winter, and spring tornadoes plague the central and southern parts of the Buckeye State. Hurricane Ike blasted the Ohio Valley in 2008. The state also had more than 30 earthquakes between 2002 and 2007. Standard homeowners policies do not cover earthquake damage. If you're worried about earthquakes, we recommend you add an endorsement to your existing policy or buy a separate policy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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