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home / insurance / in the media

CBS Evening News 6:30 PM EST
Feb 26, 2005

by ANCHOR: RUSS MITCHELL / REPORTER: SANDRA HUGHES

Insurance companies may not cover mudslide destruction to homes in Southern California

RUSS MITCHELL, Anchor: The torrential rains in Southern California this week killed nine people and caused damage that could reach $1/2 billion. Mud was responsible for much of that loss and, as Sandra Hughes tells us, also for the dreaded red tags many residents found on their homes.

Mr. SARKIS NAZERIAN (Building Inspector): ...the door. You can see...

SANDRA HUGHES reporting: It's a difficult job in the worst of conditions, and this week building inspector Sarkis Nazerian's been very busy.

Mr. NAZERIAN: What we have here is the outside wall that you saw the mud against all inside the room.

HUGHES: The mudslide hit the house during this week's epic rainstorm. Nazerian was called out to inspect the damage.

Mr. NAZERIAN: We're looking for structural damages. We're looking for foundation--stability of the soil around the property.

Unidentified Man: Yeah, we kind of...

HUGHES: He found what he was looking for, and Laurie Hunter's home was red-tagged, declared unsafe.

Ms. LAURIE HUNTER (Homeowner): There's a lot of helplessness in trying to know what to do when you have a disaster like this.

HUGHES: She's not alone. Dozens of homes in Southern California have been red-tagged this year because of the record rainfall. And while many residents realize landslides are a threat in this part of the country, they may be surprised to learn that that damage from them is not covered by insurance.

Mr. DOUG HELLER (Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights): Who'd expect that they wouldn't be covered? That's like the most obvious thing. My house was destroyed by a rainstorm. I should be covered. But the way the insurance companies write their policies, it gets excluded.

HUGHES: Because, according to the insurance industry, there are too few people who need that kind of coverage.

Ms. CANDYSSE MILLER (Insurance Information Network of California): In the case of landslides and mudslides, there's limited demand with a very high-risk clientele, which essentially would cause the product to be so expensive that there would probably be very few takers.

HUGHES: You can try to fight, though. If a resident can convince their insurer that the mudslide is more liquid than dirt, their damage might be covered by flood insurance. All they need to do is pass the shovel test.

Ms. MILLER: And if it's liquidy, if it just sort of drips off of the shovel, it's generally considered flood damage. However, if there's solid, if there's mass to it, it's generally considered a mudslide.

HUGHES: Knowing the financial burden homeowners face, LA City Council is offering emergency loans and grants for relocation. Laurie Hunter says she's determined to come back home.

Ms. HUNTER: I love this neighborhood. I don't really want to move.

HUGHES: But for now, being red-tagged means she has no choice. Sandra Hughes, CBS News, Los Angeles.

MITCHELL: Still to come on tonight's CBS EVENING NEWS: what the pope's illness could mean for the Catholic Church. And later, Hollywood stuntmen going all out for their own Oscar.

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