Displaced and underinsured: mudslide impacts Eagle County residents | SummitDaily.com

Displaced and underinsured: mudslide impacts Eagle County residents

Some forced from their homes due to significant damage are not covered by insurance

Kelli Duncan
Vail Daily
A mudslide in Avon fills the parking lot of the Sonnen Halde condominiums on Nottingham Road in Avon.
Special to the Vail Daily

AVON — The Thursday afternoon mudslide in Avon on July 22 meant traffic delays for many, but for some residents it has meant displacement and extensive damage that, in many cases, will be a cost shouldered by them and them alone.

For the residents of two housing complexes — Beaver Bench in Nottingham Park and the Sonnen Halde condominiums on Nottingham Road — Thursday’s mudslide was a horror they were completely unprepared for, one local of the Eagle County town said Friday, July 23.

“My main fear is that something could happen again before we have a chance to clean up and assess the damage from the first time, and make sure that we can do any permanent changes to avoid this happening in the future,” said Jennifer Lance, a resident of Sonnen Halde. “We’re definitely worried that it could get worse before we have a chance to make it better.”

Lance said she was working in her living room when the rain and hail began to fall Thursday afternoon. It wasn’t long before she began to hear a strange noise of gushing water “like a pipe had burst or something,” she said.

She got up to look around and suddenly saw “muddy water shooting in underneath (the) front door.”

“I tried to open the door, but it was stuck closed,” Lance said. “Thank heavens, because if I had opened it, a tidal wave of 5 feet of water would have come in the house. After maybe five minutes of (water) just shooting in, then it was just more of a steady seep and then it just slowly filled our entire kitchen, hallway and living room area.”

Lance and her husband, who rent the home from his parents, recently remodeled and put in new flooring in their main living area, which is now coated in half an inch of mud, she said. She estimates they will need to install new flooring in addition to replacing their baseboards and cutting out the bottom portion of dry wall to avoid mold. Much of the furniture in their living room and kitchen was also damaged.

But when Lance and her husband tried to file a claim with their insurance company to get help in paying for these damages, they were told that mudslides were listed as an exclusion on their insurance policy and, therefore, nothing would be covered.

As a result, the family will likely be displaced from their home for “at least three weeks” as they try to repair the damage done to their home without any assistance, which Lance said will be difficult.

“We spent all the money we had to invest in our home last year during COVID and then we also run a business, and we run our business out of our home too, so that is all being impacted by it,” she said.

Even now, Lance said she is terrified of what will become of her home if this weekend’s rains bring more flooding.

“Oh no, it started to rain,” Lance said as she spoke with the Vail Daily on Friday afternoon. “Oh my gosh, my heart is beating so fast right now because it’s raining.”

As the town of Avon begins to process the implications of Thursday’s extreme weather event, Town Manager Eric Heil said he is interested to understand just how record-breaking the afternoon’s rainfall was.

“This was a much higher water event than anyone can remember Avon receiving for decades with a much higher amount of debris flow and damage, so we’ll have to take a look and see what the rain event was and how much that exceeded what we planned for and anticipate year over year,” Heil said.

Fortunately, the town recently invested in improvements to its drainage infrastructure along Benchmark and Avon Roads, otherwise the damage may have been much worse, he said. Still, conversations will certainly be had about how the town can plan for future mudslides and flooding, he said.

“I’m sure we’ll look at what happened in this event and what we can do for additional improvements to try to control it, but … there’s only so much we can expect in controlling nature, and I think we see plenty of places throughout Colorado and everywhere where nature overwhelms the human environment,” Heil said.

The town of Avon’s public works department worked tirelessly to clear the westbound lanes of Interstate 70 and a portion of Nottingham Road, which were closed Thursday afternoon until just after 6 p.m. due to intense flooding.

Friday, the work continued as workers attempted to pull mud and water from the town’s drainage systems to prepare for more rain in the forecast this weekend, Heil said.

The public works department has enlisted the help of private contractors when possible and has been using every tool at its disposal to clear debris from roadways and drainage areas, Heil said. Snowplows, front-end loaders, trucks and street sweepers are all being put to work to clean up the town, with some public officials working for hours on end, he said.

“I am really so proud of our public works department,” Heil said. “They really dug in hard and got a lot of work done yesterday, and between yesterday and today, did a lot of work to clean out our drainage system, so I think we’ve done the best that we can.”

The town has also coordinated with the Vail Valley Salvation Army and the local branch of the American Red Cross to find a place to stay for the residents whose homes were left uninhabitable by the slide, he said.

“They’re being denied by their insurance companies and some of them have definitely lost everything,” said Tsu Wolin-Brown, a coordinator at the Salvation Army.

Wolin-Brown said the nonprofit has already heard from the residents of eight housing units between Sonnen Halde and Beaver Bench, most of whom have requested assistance with finding a place to stay.

For now, the Salvation Army has paid to put these residents up in the Christie Lodge in Avon, which offered shelter at a discounted rate, she said. The town is working to prepare a local fire station to house more residents until they are able to safely return to their homes.

Wolin-Brown said she fears there are likely more residents that are struggling and are unaware that they can reach out to the Salvation Army for assistance. She welcomed anyone to call the nonprofit at 970-748-0704 for assistance.

The Salvation Army and the Red Cross are also giving out gift cards to anyone who may need help securing groceries or other essential items during this time, she said.

Lance said she and her husband will set up a GoFundMe page to help other residents who were denied insurance coverage, which will be listed under Jason and Jennifer Lance and posted to the community Facebook group “Eagle County Classifieds.“

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