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Karl Newman, President
Sandi Henke, Communications Director
NW Insurance Council
Phone: (800) 664-4942
Fax: (206) 624-1975
Follow at Twitter/nwinsuranceinfo

Volcano: does your insurance policy protect you?

SEATTLE – A volcano can be one of the most destructive forces in nature. Mount St. Helens’ huge blast in 1980 stacked up $27 million in insured losses – that’s $62 million in today's dollars.

The area around the mountain remains at a Level 3 Alert as massive steam clouds continue to billow from the mountain’s crater. As tensions climb, questions about insurance also are on the rise.

Should a larger eruption occur, projections show that ash could ascend as high as 20,000 feet and drift as far as California. Searing hot magma would melt ice and snow, possibly triggering flash floods and mudflows.

“With all the potential devastation, people are wondering if their insurance policies will cover damage from an eruption,” said Karl Newman, NW Insurance Council president. “The good news is that damage caused by a blast, lava flows or ash would be covered. However, there are exclusions specifically related to earthquake damage, flooding and mudflows.”

NW Insurance Council and its member companies offer the following summary and tips for what to do if you are affected by a volcanic blast.

What’s Covered

  • Most Homeowners policies provide coverage for property loss caused by volcanic eruption when it is the result of a volcanic blast, airborne shockwaves, ash, dust, or lava flow.
  • Fire, explosion, or theft resulting from volcanic eruption also is covered.
  • Damage to your vehicle is covered under most automobile insurance policies if you have Comprehensive coverage at the time of the loss. Direct, sudden damage to engines from volcanic ash or dust is covered under most policies. Most policies do not cover damage that occurs over time and is caused by volcanic dust or ash. Wear and tear from any circumstance is generally not covered.
  • A vehicle accident that happens during or after a volcanic eruption would be covered like any other accident, provided you have Collision and Liability protection in at the time of the accident.

What Isn’t Covered

  • Most Homeowners insurance policies do not cover damage from earthquake, land tremors, landslide, mudflow, or other earth movement regardless of whether or not the quake is caused by or causes a volcanic eruption.
  • Earthquake coverage is usually available either by endorsement for an additional charge or by purchasing a separate earthquake policy. Most insurance companies will not issue earthquake policies during or immediately after an earthquake.
  • Flood damage is not covered under a typical homeowners insurance policy. Flood coverage is available through the National Flood Insurance Program, provided the policy is in force prior to a flood.
  • Damage to land, trees, shrubs, lawns, property in the open, open sheds or the contents of those open sheds are typically not covered.

What To Do

  • Avoid prolonged driving in airborne or accumulated volcanic ash. Volcanic ash or dust can cause severe damage to your engine.
  • If your vehicle is exposed to heavy volcanic ash, change your air filter and have your vehicle checked by a qualified auto mechanic as soon as possible.
  • Do not wipe or brush the ash or dust that accumulates on your vehicle or windows. Volcanic ash is very abrasive and can easily scratch your vehicle. Carefully wash the ash from your vehicle with a stream of water from a garden hose.
  • Remove ash from your vehicle as soon as it is safe to do so. Prolonged exposure to volcanic ash and dust can chemically damage the paint and glass.
  • Remove ash and dust from the roof of your home as soon as it is safe to do so. Ash is heavy and can cause damage to your roof or gutters if allowed to accumulate.

NW Insurance Council is a nonprofit, public-education organization funded by member insurance companies serving Oregon, Washington and Idaho.