Perspective Newsletter
Spring 2015
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Oso anniversary reminds Northwest of landslide vulnerability

landslide damage

​​​It’s a “Where were you when?” moment seared into our Northwest consciousness. At 10:37 a.m., March 22, 2014, a fast-moving wall of mud killed 43 people and engulfed 49 structures just east of Oso, Wash.  

It became the deadliest single landslide event in United States history.

In the year since the tragedy, experts still debate its cause. But no one, having witnessed the devastation, doubts the destructive power of saturated earth.

While homeowners in the Oso landslide zone could not have done anything to change their fates, the sobering anniversary reminds the rest of us how important it is to do whatever we can to minimize landslide danger around our own property. These tips can help:

  • Channel water from surface runoff, downspouts, and driveways AWAY from slopes and into storm drains or natural drainages.
  • Maintain water and sewer lines to prevent leaks.
  • Minimize irrigation on and above slopes.
  • Don’t excavate dirt and rocks from the base of slopes.
  • Don’t dump fill dirt at the top or sides of slopes.
  • Plant groundcover with deep roots on slopes.
  • Build retaining walls at the base of slopes.
  • ​Don’t cut trees from the top or sides of slopes, unless there’s a clear danger.

If you’re already seeing signs of soil instability (things like leaning trees, arc-shaped cracks in the earth, concrete stairs pulling away from the house), consider contacting a geotechnical engineer or qualified engineering geologist who can help you assess the likelihood of a damaging slide. For help in finding an expert, contact the State Department of Ecology or your local extension office or public works department.

You’ll also want to plan an emergency evacuation route and share it with all family members. Keep an emergency kit and supplies handy in case you need to get out quickly or a mudslide cuts off road access to and from home.

We can help you find coverage

Like virtually all homeowners policies sold in the United States, your PEMCO policy generally excludes coverage for landslides. We can pay to repair your home only if the damage resulted from a covered loss. 

You don’t have to go it alone, though. If you’re concerned about landslides, call us. We can help you find coverage (called a “Difference in Conditions” policy) through another company that specializes in that risk. Policies vary, but they typically offer all-in-one coverage for landslides, mudflows, earthquakes, and floods. Based on your risk (proximity to a cliff, the degree of slope on your property), you could expect to pay $1,000 or more per year to cover a $300,000 home. 

To learn more about a Difference in Conditions policy, call 1-800-GO-PEMCO, ext. 4007, or contact your local PEMCO agent.