Best Methods for Surviving
Landslide Disasters...

What are Landslides & Mudslides?

In a landslide, masses of rock, earth, or debris move down a slope with a powerful force of inertia that nothing can really withstand. With mudslides, instead of dry earth you have mud, much like cement, that moves downward moving things in their path with the flow.

Flooded Missouri Town

Landslides are a serious geologic hazard common to almost every state in the United States. It is estimated that nationally they cause up to $2 billion in damages and from 25 to 50 deaths annually. Globally, landslides cause billions of dollars in damage and thousands of deaths and injuries each year.

Dry landslides are rivers of rock, earth, and other debris that break loose from their base and move down a slope. Wet landslides known as mud flows are rivers of rock, mud, and other debris saturated with water.


Mudslides specifically develop when water rapidly accumulates in the ground, during heavy rainfall or rapid snowmelt, changing the earth into a flowing river of mud or “slurry.”

Both landslides and mudslides can flow rapidly, striking with little or no warning at avalanche speeds. They also can travel several miles from their source, growing in size as they pick up trees, boulders, cars, homes, and other materials.

Feasibility of a Landslide or Mudslide Occurring Where You Live

Landslides occur in all U.S. states and territories. They can occur in mountain canyons, along roadway cuts and fills, and on hillsides where wildfires have removed the vegetation that would normally prevent rain erosion through coverage and root systems.

Landslide problems can be caused by land mismanagement, particularly in mountain, canyon, and coastal regions. In areas burned by forest and brush fires, a lower threshold of precipitation may initiate landslides. Land-use zoning, professional inspections, and proper design can minimize many landslide, mudflow, and debris flow problems.

What Usually Happens When A Landslide or Mudslide Disaster Occurs?

Landslides may be small or large, slow or rapid. They are activated by:

  • Storms,

  • Earthquakes,

  • Natural geological fault failures,

  • Volcanic eruptions,

  • Fires,

  • Alternate freezing or thawing,

  • Underground springs,

  • Construction dynamite blasts,

  • Steepening of slopes by erosion or human modification.

Surviving Landslide Disasters with Proper Planning and Preparation

Because landslides are very unexpected geological events, there is little one can do to prepare for them. Mudslides, in some situations, one stands a better chance to prepare for them. The residence in California have quite a bit experience in recognizing the formation of mudslides and preparing engineered solutions to mitigate the flow of mud as much as possible—although sometimes the quantity of material is just too great to handle and entire homes are destroyed.

Actions to Take for Surviving Landslide Disasters

What you should do if a landslide or debris flow occurs:

  • Stay alert and awake. Many debris-flow fatalities occur when people are sleeping. Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or portable, battery-powered radio or television for warnings of intense rainfall. Be aware that intense, short bursts of rain may be particularly dangerous, especially after longer periods of heavy rainfall and damp weather.

  • If you are in areas susceptible to landslides and debris flows, consider leaving if it is safe to do so. Remember that driving during an intense storm can be hazardous. If you remain at home, move to a second story if possible. Staying out of the path of a landslide or debris flow saves lives.

  • Listen for any unusual sounds that might indicate moving debris, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together. A trickle of flowing or falling mud or debris may precede larger landslides. Moving debris can flow quickly and sometimes without warning.

  • If you are near a stream or channel, be alert for any sudden increase or decrease in water flow and for a change from clear to muddy water. Such changes may indicate landslide activity upstream, so be prepared to move quickly. Don't delay! Save yourself, not your belongings.

  • Be especially alert when driving. Embankments along roadsides are particularly susceptible to landslides. Watch the road for collapsed pavement, mud, fallen rocks, and other indications of possible debris flows.

What to Do if You Suspect Imminent Landslide or Mudslide Danger

  • Contact your local fire, police, or public works department . Local officials are the best persons able to assess potential danger.

  • Inform affected neighbors. Your neighbors may not be aware of potential hazards. Advising them of a potential threat may help save lives. Help neighbors who may need assistance to evacuate.

  • Evacuate. Getting out of the path of a landslide or debris flow is your best protection.

  • Curl into a tight ball and protect your head if escape is not possible.

Actions to Take After Surviving Landslide Disasters

Guidelines for the period following a landslide:

  • Stay away from the slide area. There may be danger of additional slides.

  • Listen to local radio or television stations for the latest emergency information.

  • Watch for flooding, which may occur after a landslide or debris flow. Floods sometimes follow landslides and debris flows because they may both be started by the same event.

  • Check for injured and trapped persons near the slide, without entering the direct slide area. Direct rescuers to their locations.

  • Help a neighbor who may require special assistance - infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities. Elderly people and people with disabilities may require additional assistance. People who care for them or who have large families may need additional assistance in emergency situations.

  • Look for and report broken utility lines and damaged roadways and railways to appropriate authorities. Reporting potential hazards will get the utilities turned off as quickly as possible, preventing further hazard and injury.

  • Check the building foundation, chimney, and surrounding land for damage. Damage to foundations, chimneys, or surrounding land may help you assess the safety of the area.

  • Replant damaged ground as soon as possible since erosion caused by loss of ground cover can lead to flash flooding and additional landslides in the near future.

  • Seek advice from a geotechnical expert for evaluating landslide hazards or designing corrective techniques to reduce landslide risk. A professional will be able to advise you of the best ways to prevent or reduce landslide risk, without creating further hazard.

Additional References for Surviving Landslide Disasters

Highway Department of Transportation regarding highways.

Historical Notes for Surviving Landslide Disasters:

January 2010, California coastal regions suffered from mudslides which threatened homes. These mudslides were preceded by intense and abundant wildfires that burned off all of the existing vegetation last summer.

Among the most destructive types of debris flows are those that accompany volcanic eruptions. A spectacular example in the United States was a massive debris flow resulting from the 1980 eruptions of Mount St. Helens, Washington. Areas near the bases of many volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain Range of California, Oregon, and Washington are at risk from the same types of flows during future volcanic eruptions.

Wildfires can also lead to destructive debris-flow activity. In July 1994, a severe wildfire swept Storm King Mountain, west of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, denuding the slopes of vegetation. Heavy rains on the mountain in September resulted in numerous debris flows, one of which blocked Interstate 70 and threatened to dam the Colorado River.


Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):


American Red Cross:



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