The insurance industry is warning that Canada is unprepared for the next major earthquake and that the risk is not confined to the well-known fault lines off the west coast. 

A study released Tuesday by the Insurance Bureau of Canada suggests that a damaging and potentially deadly earthquake could hit the Ottawa and Saint Lawrence river valleys.

"I think this is the beginning of a wake-up call for consumers, for governments and for the industry as it relates to central Canada," said Don Forgeron, president of the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

After a string of major earthquakes around the world culminating in the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the insurance industry commissioned a study to assess the risk to Canada.

A US risk modelling company looked at what it called two plausible scenarios: a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the west coast of Vancouver Island and an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale with an epicentre near Quebec City.

However, one of the scientists behind the study warns the eastern earthquake could occur anywhere between Quebec City and the nation's capital.

People in eastern Canada particularly unprepared, bureau says

"The entire corridor between Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City is prone to earthquake risk, so think about the Ottawa River valley and the Saint Lawrence River valley," said scientist Jay Guin.

The research team estimated total losses at a staggering $75 billion for the west coast scenario and $61 billion in losses for the central Canada scenario.

Both potential earthquakes would also entail significant loss of life, said Guin.

The bureau said the insurance industry would be hard-pressed to meet all of the claims for either of the possible earthquakes. 

People living in the eastern earthquake zone are particularly unprepared for a quake, and buildings and infrastructure would be more susceptible to damage, the bureau said.