How to Survive a Landslide

Are you living in a region prone to landslides, or are you planning to visit one soon? Don’t let the fear of this natural disaster hold you back. With the right knowledge and preparation, you can be ready to face any landslide situation and ensure the safety of yourself and your loved ones.

This guide will provide you with essential information on how to stay safe during a landslide. You’ll learn about the warning signs to watch for, steps to take before a landslide occurs, and how to respond during and after the event. We’ll also cover what you should do if you find yourself in the midst of a landslide.

What to Do During a Landslide?

Stay Informed

Listen to local news stations on a battery-powered radio for warnings. Always follow the instructions from local emergency managers. They provide the latest recommendations based on the threat in your community.

Stay Alert and Awake

Many deaths from landslides occur while people are sleeping. Stay alert and awake during a storm that could cause a landslide.

Be Prepared

Have an emergency kit ready in case you need to evacuate quickly. This should include food, water, clothing, first aid supplies, and any other items you may need. Listen to the radio or watch TV for warnings about intense rainfall or for information and instructions from local officials.

Avoid Dangerous Areas

Avoid river valleys and low-lying areas during times of danger. If you are near a stream or channel, be alert for any sudden increase or decrease in water flow or water that changes from clear to muddy. These can be signs that a landslide is coming. If you do get stuck in the path of a landslide, move uphill as quickly as possible.

Watch for Signs

Look for tilted trees, telephone poles, fences, or walls, and for new holes or bare spots on hillsides. Listen for rumbling sounds that might indicate an approaching landslide or mudflow. Be alert when driving, as roads may become blocked or closed due to collapsed pavement or debris.

Evacuate Immediately

If you suspect imminent danger, evacuate immediately. Inform affected neighbors if you can, and contact your public works, fire, or police department. Be aware that by the time you are sure a debris flow is coming, it will be too late to get away safely.

Never cross a road with water or mud flowing. Never cross a bridge if you see a flow approaching because it can grow faster and larger too quickly for you to escape.

Seek Shelter

Move to the nearest high ground in a direction away from the path. If rocks and debris are approaching, run for the nearest shelter and take cover (if possible, under a desk, table, or other piece of sturdy furniture). Avoid buildings that are at risk of collapse, such as those with large windows or weak foundations.

What Should You Do Before a Landslide?

Familiarize yourself with the risks

Assume that steep slopes and areas burned by wildfires are vulnerable to landslides and debris flows. Learn whether landslides or debris flows have occurred previously in your area by contacting local authorities, a county geologist or the county planning department, state geological surveys or departments of natural resources, or university departments of geology.

Develop emergency and evacuation plans

Contact local authorities about emergency and evacuation plans, and develop emergency and evacuation plans for your family and business. This includes creating a household evacuation plan that includes your pets and developing an emergency communication plan in case family members are separated.

Assemble an emergency preparedness kit

Make a plan for your household, including your pets, so that you and your family know what to do and where to go in the event of a landslide. Staying informed about your community’s risk and response plans is also important. Ensure each family member knows how to get back in touch if you are separated during an emergency.

Consider leaving if you live in an area vulnerable to landslides

While this may not be possible for everyone, it’s important to consult a professional for advice on appropriate preventative measures for your home or business. For example, flexible pipe fittings can resist breakage better and protect your property based on recommendations from a qualified geotechnical professional and/or local city/county guidance on protection from debris flow and flooding. You can also protect your property from floodwaters or mud by use of sandbags, retaining walls, or k-rails (Jersey barriers).

Protect your property

In mud and debris flow areas, consider building channels or deflection walls to try to direct the flow around buildings. However, be aware that when a flow is big enough, it goes where it pleases. Also, you may be liable for damages if you divert a flow and it flows on a neighbor’s property. Talk to your insurance agent if you are at risk from a landslide. Debris flow may be covered by flood insurance policies from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

stay safe in a landslide

What Should I Do if I Live in an Area at Risk From Landslides or Mudslides?

Be informed

Keep yourself updated on local weather forecasts, especially during heavy rainfall or after wildfires. Sign up for emergency alerts from your local authorities so you can stay ahead of potential disasters.

Know the signs

Familiarize yourself with the common indicators of landslides, such as saturated ground, cracking or bulging land, leaning trees, or sudden changes in water flow. This knowledge will help you react quickly if you see any of these signs.

Prepare your home

Maintain your property by keeping drains, gutters, and other water runoff systems clear of debris. Install retaining walls and plant vegetation to stabilize slopes and reduce erosion. Make sure your home insurance covers landslide damages.

Plan your escape route

Identify at least two evacuation routes from your home in case a landslide or mudslide occurs. Be sure to practice these routes with your family regularly.

Assemble an emergency kit

Prepare an emergency kit with essential items such as food, water, first-aid supplies, medications, a flashlight, and a battery-powered radio. Make sure to have it easily accessible in case you need to evacuate quickly.

Develop a family communication plan

Establish a plan to stay in touch with your family members in the event of an emergency. Choose an out-of-area contact person who can relay messages between separated family members.

Stay alert during and after heavy rains

Pay attention to the ground around you, listen for unusual sounds, and watch for signs of earth movement. If you suspect a landslide is imminent, evacuate immediately and alert your neighbors.

Which Areas Are High Risk?

Steep slopes

Areas with steep slopes, particularly those with a history of landslides, are especially prone to future landslides. These areas can be found in mountainous regions, coastal cliffs, or riverbanks.

Areas affected by wildfires

Wildfires can strip vegetation from the land, leaving the soil exposed and vulnerable to erosion. With no roots to hold the soil together, landslides can easily occur during heavy rainfall.

Construction sites

Improper construction techniques and land development can disrupt the stability of slopes, increasing the likelihood of landslides. Be cautious around construction sites, especially those on steep terrain.

Near rivers or streams

The banks of rivers and streams can erode over time, weakening the land and making it susceptible to landslides. Keep an eye on these areas during periods of heavy rain or snowmelt.

Areas with poor drainage

Locations with poor drainage systems or impervious surfaces can accumulate water quickly, causing the soil to become saturated and prone to landslides.

Regions with seismic activity

Earthquakes can destabilize slopes and trigger landslides. If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, be aware of the added risk of landslides following seismic events.

Warning Signs of a Landslide

Cracks or bulging

Keep an eye out for new cracks or bulging areas in the ground, roads, sidewalks, or other surfaces. These can be signs of land movement and potential landslides.

Tilting or leaning trees

If you notice trees, poles, or fences suddenly tilting or leaning, this may signal that the ground beneath them is shifting and a landslide could be on its way.

Sudden changes in water flow

Watch for any sudden changes in water flow, such as muddy or dirty water in a stream or a sudden decrease in water levels. This could indicate that a landslide is blocking the water upstream.

Unusual sounds

Listen for rumbling, cracking, or other unusual sounds that might indicate a landslide is in progress. This can help you react quickly if you hear these sounds nearby.

Doors or windows sticking

If doors or windows start sticking or jamming for no apparent reason, it could be a sign of ground movement and potential landslides.

Saturated ground

Prolonged heavy rain can saturate the ground, making it more prone to landslides. Be extra cautious during and after periods of heavy rainfall.

What to do After a Landslide?

Stay safe

The immediate aftermath of a landslide can be dangerous, with unstable ground and the potential for aftershocks. Stay away from the affected area until local authorities declare it safe to return.

Check for injuries

Assess yourself and others around you for injuries. Administer first aid if necessary and call for medical help if needed.

Report the landslide

Contact your local authorities to inform them of the landslide, especially if there are blocked roads or additional hazards.

Document the damage

Take photographs and make notes of any damage to your property. This will be helpful when filing insurance claims or seeking assistance.

Communicate with loved ones

Let your family and friends know you’re safe. Check on your neighbors, especially the elderly or those with disabilities, to ensure they’re okay.

Monitor news and weather

Keep track of local news and weather updates to stay informed about potential risks or additional landslides in the area.

Seek professional help

Depending on the extent of damage, you may need to consult with engineers, geologists, or other experts to assess the stability of your property and determine necessary repairs.

Be prepared for future landslides

Learn from your experience and take steps to better prepare for future landslides, such as improving drainage, reinforcing slopes, and creating an emergency plan.

Landslide Safety FAQ

How long do landslides last?

Landslides can last from a few seconds to several minutes, depending on factors like the volume of material, slope steepness, and type of landslide. Some can occur quickly, while others, like slow-moving earth flows, may take days or weeks to progress.

Why are landslides dangerous?

Landslides are dangerous because they can cause significant damage to property, infrastructure, and the environment. They also pose a threat to human life, as they can happen suddenly and trap or bury people in their path.

What happens during a landslide?

During a landslide soil, rock, and debris rapidly move downhill. The sudden displacement of large volumes of material can cause significant damage to properties, infrastructure, and the environment. Additionally, landslides pose a threat to human life, trapping or burying people in their path, and disrupting communities.

What does a landslide look like?

A landslide can appear as a mass of soil, rocks, and debris sliding or flowing downhill. It may look like a muddy river, a rapidly moving rock avalanche, or a slow-moving earthflow. The appearance varies depending on the type and speed of the landslide.

Landslide Safety Resources

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