Thursday, September 29, 2011

Landslide case in Stafford County VA shows that "California-type" disasters do happen in the East; insurance for these problems is often inadequate

To follow up on my tours of flood damage, I’d like to mention WJLA-7’s report on a landslide in Stafford County VA that has reduced the value of several $300000+ homes to zero, and it appears that insurance doesn’t cover it. The development was called Austin Ridge.

A landslide in the backyard close to the houses caused them to be condemned.

The report is not clear, but it would appear that repeated heavy rains in the two major tropical storms and possibly previously in a wet summer contributed. It’s conceivable that an earthquake of moderate severity could contribute to a hill’s instability.

The report says the developer has refused to meet with homeowners.

Apparently in this case, the unstable land was beneath the homes. In Woodbridge, there was an issue of unstable land walls above townhomes.  However, in all these cases, property must be graded very carefully to make sure it is robust enough to handle the heavy  or even torrential rains that occur occasionally in the regions’ humid climate and proximity to major storm tracks.  Building standards may simply not be strict enough.  These problems are more common in California.

The WJLA link is here. I did not encounter this area on my day trip Monday and do not know the exact location.  Comments are welcome.

As noted in this blog before, the rules on homeowner’s insurance are tricky, with large deductibles. At least one attorney has told me that homeowners in northern Virginia (and other East Coast areas) should consider earthquake insurance and reevaluate the need for flood insurance even in higher areas if there are hidden, long buried streams around or any unstable grades.

Picture: a swampy area in Prince William County, about 20 miles from the site in this story. 

The following video from CS&A explains landslides and mudflow, but in Tennessee.  Many times these hazards are not covered by insurance and cannot be bought, even with federally-endorsed flood policies. (The only company selling it in TN was "Ace".)

Update:  Oct. 20

WJLA reports the release of county funds for repairs to the hillside, has more pictures.  Two homeowners had USAA insurance which did not cover this. It is viewed as similar to a flood. Link.

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