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Mudflows and Mudslides: The Difference for Your Insurance

The media often use the terms “mudflow,” “mudslide,” and “landslide” interchangeably when discussing catastrophic mud damage from debris flow. When you’re standing knee-deep in mud in your basement, you probably don’t care what kind of debris flow it is, and that’s understandable. But your insurance company will care about how the mud is classified and what exactly caused the debris flow

The type of debris flow matters for insurance and your coverage could vary drastically if the mud in your basement is a mudflow or a mudslide or a landslide. So before your basement fills with mud, you should learn about the classifications of debris flow to determine if any damage to your home is covered by your insurance policy or not. Read on to learn more about the differences between a mudflow, mudslide, and landslide and how that affects your insurance coverage

What is Mudflow?

A mudflow is a type of debris flow that is a river of liquid and mud. A mudflow may have rocks and sticks like other types of debris flow, but the key part is that mudflows are fluid. A mudflow can occur when liquid—usually from rain—and mud mix together. Mudflows will occur on surfaces that are normally dry. FEMA describes mudflow as having the consistency of a milkshake. For example, if you were to put the mud on a flat surface and tilt it, the earth from a mudflow should runoff. Most often, a mudflow will occur as part of a flood or snowmelt because that provides the environment for water to saturate the area around it and cause a debris flow

What is Mudslide? 

Though a mudslide sounds similar to a mudflow, they are technically different types of debris flows. Mudslides are a debris flow of rock, mud, and dirt that is thicker than a mudflow. FEMA describes the consistency of mudslides as that of a cake. If you put the mudslide debris on a flat surface and tilted it, the mud should stay mostly on the surface. The mudslide is still moist, but it isn’t a river of liquid mud. 

Mudslides can often be the result of large amounts of rainfall that loosen the earth on a hill or slope. The mud and other debris will then gather and start sliding down the slope, sometimes gaining speed up to 35 mph. Mudslides can cause significant damage because of the speed and more solid form of debris. 

What is a Landslide?

Landslides are sometimes called “mudslides,” but it’s a slightly different variation of debris flow. Landslides are similar to mudslides because they are a debris flow that occurs when the earth shifts somehow, and the dirt and rocks start sliding down a hill or mountain at incredible speeds. The key difference between landslides and mudflows or mudslides is that landslides usually don’t have significant amounts of mud in them. Landslides will be primarily rocks and dirt and other accumulated debris. Mudslides are essentially landslides with mud, and both can be incredibly damaging. 

The debris flow from landslides can occur because of significant rainfall, but they can also be caused by:

  • Weakened or cracking rocks
  • Fire or volcanos
  • Ice or melting snow
  • Mining or logging or other human activities

On the other hand, mudflows are primarily caused by floods. The cause is one of the key differences between these three debris flows. 

Are Mudflows, Mudslides, or Landslides Covered by Insurance? 

Almost all regular homeowners insurance policies won’t cover mudflows, mudslides, landslides or debris flow. These debris flows are damaging and catastrophic, so most commercial insurance companies don’t cover them. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have insurance coverage for some of the damage

Because a mudflow is primarily caused by flooding, mudflows are covered by flood insurance policies. Flood insurance isn’t included in a homeowners policy and must be purchased either through a private insurer or the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). At Insurance Quotes, we offer free quotes for flood insurance coverage to help you find the cheapest way to protect your home. The best way to protect against a mudflow or any debris flow is to be prepared with flood insurance.

Even though mudslides and landslides are damaging, they aren’t covered by an insurance policy. There is no mudslide insurance or coverage for landslides. The best way to protect your property from mudslides or landslides is to plan ahead to try and reduce damage. Here are some tips: 

  • Plant trees, shrubs, and other vegetation on slopes to keep the earth stable. 
  • Build some kind of channel system around your property to divert debris flow
  • Build retaining walls around your property to try and reduce damage

Remember that if you divert damage from mudslides or landslides into your neighbor’s property, you may be responsible for the damage to their home or other property.