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Should Your Insurance Cover Lahars?

September 30, 2013


If you live in Orting or Enumclaw, WA, then you probably know what a lahar is and why it poses a danger. You might also if you remember your Geology 101 class from college. But if you don’t know, lahars pose an incredible threat in the central Washington area and in many other surrounding states and even across the world. The word “lahar” comes from an Indonesian term describing a mix of hot and cold water and rock fragments.[1] They tend to look similar to giant moving flows of concrete and can be relatively small or incredibly huge. But what are they, exactly, and where do they come from?

Lahars as we tend to think of them are generally caused by the melting of snow and/or glaciers after a volcanic eruption. The heat of the eruption melts snow; the resulting water mixes with soil, rocks, and other debris to create a huge mudflow. Lahars can also occur without an eruption[2] and can be caused by melting snow and glaciers during a particularly warm season, heavy rainfall on muddy slopes, or earthquakes near a volcano. So why should an insurance agent or underwriter be concerned with these mudflows?

Take, for example, the Osceola Lahar, which occurred about 5,600 years ago after an eruption from Mount Rainier. Deposits from this outflowing have been recorded as far away as the city of Seattle and covered an area of approximately 212 square miles.[3] A lahar from Mt. Rainier could be 100 feet thick or more and can travel at speeds close to 25 miles per hour. With approximately 80,000 people, their homes, and their business structures in the path of a Mt. Rainier lahar[4], the danger is real. As an insurance agent, it’s important to know if your customer’s home or business is in the path of one of these mud flows and if it’s properly insured.

Scientists predict that it’s been around 500 years since the last Mt. Rainier lahar and that we may be in a window of another event occurring. As always, being prepared is best. Find out if your customer is possibly in the path of a lahar using our PropertyEDGE tool, and be sure that they’re prepared!

The city of Orting, WA, website includes the following tips:

–          Warning sirens are in place in the Orting, Puyallup, and surrounding areas.  If you hear a siren, don’t wait for instructions: evacuate immediately.

–          Have grab-and-go kits prepared.

–          Include a plan for how to contact family members and where to meet in the event of an evacuation.

–          Be prepared to walk: car accidents may occur as people rush to leave the area, so you may be forced to walk.

–          For more information, visit the City of Orting website at:

Click here to learn more about PropertyEDGE!

Article by: Kristen Skinner

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