The huge weekend mudslide that rushed through a Washington state community claimed lives, destroyed homes and displaced people in its path.
And while residents of the rural area north of Seattle continue to search for loved ones and pick up the pieces, it may come as an additional shock to homeowners that their insurance may not cover the destruction.
A standard home insurance policy does not protect your home against damage caused by a mudslide, which is defined as a type of ground movement on a hillside that can result from frequent and heavy rainfall. Authorities in Snohomish County, Wash., believe recent rains caused a hillside to collapse into a wall of mud.
A 'mudflow' is different
Damage from a "mudflow," however, typically is covered -- but by a flood insurance policy, not home insurance. A mudflow often is a byproduct of a flood, explains Loretta Worters, spokeswoman for the trade group the Insurance Information Institute. The website for the National Flood Insurance Program describes mudflows as "rivers of liquid and flowing mud on the surface of normally dry land."
Why does insurance regularly cover mudflows and not mudslides?
"(A mudslide) is a big risk," Worters says. "They can be much more powerful than a mudflow."
"Powerful" is easily a word for the Washington state mudslide, which demolished dozens of homes, according to The Associated Press.
Recovering any losses from the square-mile mudslide may prove difficult, because Worters says there is no surefire way to protect your home from a mudslide.
Mudslide coverage tough to find
Some insurers offer separate landslide coverage as an add-on that protects only the contents inside your house -- not the structure of the home itself. There also is earthquake insurance, which would cover damage from a quake-induced landslide.
You might find a separate "earth movement" policy, available through specialty insurers, to cover both your home and its contents. However, "if your home is on a hillside and it's in a landslide-prone area, you might still not be able to get coverage," Worters says.
Check with your insurer to review your options for coverage against mudslides.
Do you live in a landslide-prone area? Are you concerned about protecting your home?
Follow me on Twitter @CrissiPonder.