Mudflows and mudslides: Will your insurance cover home damage caused by these natural disasters?

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer


If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of wading through sludge after mud has damaged your home, whether it’s considered a result of a mudslide or mudflow can impact your homeowners insurance coverage.

Landslides, mudslides and mudflows result in an estimated $2 billion in damages and from 25 to 50 deaths in the United States each year, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Although the terms are often used interchangeably in the media, there are key differences among their definitions.

Standard insurance policies for homeowners, renters and businesses usually will exclude floods, mudflows, landslides and earthquakes, and coverage for these events will require separate policies, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.

California mudslides - AP Photo

FILE – This Jan. 10, 2018, file aerial photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows mudflow and damage to homes in Montecito, California. (Matt Udkow/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)


Mudflows

Mudflows are defined by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program as “a river of liquid and flowing mud on the surfaces of normally dry land areas, as when earth is carried by a current of water.”

Other earth movements, including landslides, slope failure or a saturated soil mass moving by liquidity down a slope, are not mudflows, according to FEMA.

“The mudflow is a more liquid event, so what you have is basically runoff with suspended sediments with very small particle size,” said Dr. Chris Renschler, an associate professor of geography for the University at Buffalo’s College of Arts and Sciences and director of the university’s Landscape-based Environmental System Analysis and Modeling (LESAM) lab.

“We’re talking about sand and maybe there are some boulders with it if the runoff is really large,” Renschler said. “The mudflow is surface water-infused, so that means the amount of runoff that is coming is basically triggering the detachment and the transport of the material.”

Because mudflows mainly involve water, damage from these events are typically covered with flood insurance.

Flood and mudflow insurance is available to homeowners and businesses through the National Flood Insurance Program, and renters are able to purchase policies for their personal belongings, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Institute.

Mudslides

Mudslides happen when a mass of earth or rock, propelled by gravity, moves downhill, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

“When you are talking about a mudslide, you’re talking about the collapse of a hillside, and that is much more debris than it is a liquid content,” Renschler said.

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Water from the mudslide infiltrates and destabilizes the internal structure of the hillside, which leads to a collapse, according to Renschler. “There’s a gravity process that is taking place there,” he said.

Mudslides differ from mudflows in that mudflows involve surface water carrying along material.

Mudslides typically don't contain enough liquid to seep into your house, which is why they’re not eligible for flood insurance coverage. The Insurance Information Institute states that mudslides aren’t covered by any policy.

For landslides, which are considered an earth movement and are caused by the movement of destabilized land, aren’t included in standard homeowners and business policies.

However, people are able to purchase “Difference in Conditions” plans that cover landslides, mudflows, earthquakes and flood events, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

“Difference in Conditions policies are sold by surplus lines insurers; your insurance professional can help you find a surplus lines insurer that will meet your needs,” the Insurance Information Institute states on their website.


For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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