The recent landslide in Oso, Washington, is only the latest example of how seriously insurers need to take the risk of these events. According to the BBC, the landslide destroyed about 30 houses and the mud remains up to 80 feet deep in some places.
Search and rescue processes have been hampered by heavy rainfall and toxic hazards that require each person leaving the debris field to be decontaminated. Washington Governor Jay Inslee has reportedly estimated that the total cost of the incident, including property damage and cleanup expenses, will exceed $40 million. President Obama stopped in the area on Tuesday to view the damage caused by the mudslide, before continuing on to Asia for a diplomatic trip.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Lieutenant Richard Burke of the Bellevue Fire Department explained why this mudslide was particularly powerful.
"The mountain didn't slide like an avalanche that starts at the top and slides down," Burke said. "It actually blew out at the bottom. And all of that energy, because of the weight on top of it, blew across the river and brought all that water and material in it."
Landslides a risk in all parts of the country
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that landslides cause more than $1 billion in damages and as many as 50 deaths in the United States each year. Globally, the damages amount to hundreds of billions of dollars, with hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries.
Landslides can happen suddenly as a result of an earthquake or heavy downpour, or as the result of the gradual forces of erosion and gravity. The USGS notes that most landslides have multiple causes, but heavy precipitation is often a key factor, as heavy rain or snow can add a significant amount of weight to weak or overly steep slopes. This means that early spring provides perfect conditions for landslides, as there is melting snow and rain weighing down the sides of mountains and steep hills.
Areas with a heightened risk of landslides include parts of the Appalachians, the Rockies and mountainous ranges near the Pacific coast, although almost every state has communities that are vulnerable to landslides, according to the USGS. The breadth of this risk is just one more reason why it is essential for residential and commercial properties to have the right amount of insurance coverage as we head into the spring.
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