Experts weigh in on what Big Island residents are up against as Kilauea volcano eruption continues

By Chris Morris
May 17, 2018 12:30 PM

As lava from the Kilauea volcano continues to devour 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, according to experts.

“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.

Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano eruption, Pahoa, USA - 06 May 2018

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.

However, as Hawaii insurance broker Judy Moa told CNN, if a policy specifically excludes lava damage, then a policy’s fire coverage would not apply.

“The cause of damage is lava at the end of the day,” she said. “If lava came down the hill, and they have lava exclusion and trees catch fire, which burn the house, that’s not covered.”

Because residents of the Big Island chose to move to a place that has an active volcano, many insurers take the stance that they knew the risks. But there are a couple potential loopholes.

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, about 2,000 people have had to flee their homes since the volcano first erupted on May 3 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.

Mayor Harry Kim declared a state of emergency in Hawaii County, according to a statement from Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced in a tweet that he had activated the Hawaii National Guard to help with security and evacuations.

Several shelters have been opened in surrounding towns as officials have detected “extremely high levels of dangerous Sulfur Dioxide gas in evac area,” according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.

According to the Hawaii Volcano ObservatoryOver the last few days, new fissures opened on Hawaii’s Big Island.

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