Landslides occur in all 50 states, but the Rocky Mountains, Appalachian Mountains, and Pacific Coast are at the greatest risk from these natural disasters. These events can occur without warning, but there are signs to look out for to keep yourself safe. As with every natural disaster, knowledge and preparation are essential for survival.
The term landslide is used to describe a variety of natural disasters that occur when slopes give way and/or material is moved by strongly flowing water. Structural instability and earthquakes can cause material to give way, but intense rain, snowmelt, and runoff can contribute and trigger deadly flows. Landslides are classified by their type of material (rock, debris, or earth), speed of travel, and the way that they move.
Common types of landslides are:
Awareness and proper preparation are key to surviving any natural disaster. Therefore, it’s important to research the area and be aware of the risk from landslides where you live or recreate. Remember to avoid building structures in areas that are near unstable slopes or other risky areas.
Slopes that have been burned by wildfire are at increased risk, and look for boulders in places that might indicate the site of a previous landslide. Intense rainfall, snowmelt, and runoff drive debris flows and geological instability, so be prepared during an extreme weather event.
A coming landslide can be heard, so be ready to act if you hear churning rocks, snapping trees, suddenly rushing water, or any other unusual sounds. If the water in a stream begin to increase or if it suddenly becomes muddy, be prepared for a coming debris flow or other type of landslide.
If you encounter a landslide, be sure to avoid it and quickly get to higher ground if possible. This can mean running uphill, getting to the top floor of a building, or even standing on top of countertops. Most deaths from landslides occur while people are asleep, so make sure that you stay awake and ready to evacuate if there is intense rain.
Avoid bridges since a surge of rushing water might rush over them, and never cross a flood or debris flow. Debris avalanches can move faster than a person can run, so move to the side of these or curl up into a ball with your arms protecting your head if escape is impossible.
If you become trapped beneath debris, stay calm and slow your breath to preserve oxygen until rescue arrives. Otherwise, check yourself for injury and see to any first aid needs before searching for others. If the landslide was triggered by an earthquake, be prepared for aftershocks. More flooding may occur, so evacuate the area immediately and contact help.
Your chances of facing a landslide are very slim. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to be prepared for them if you travel or live near an area that is prone to these natural disasters. Preparation is the best method for staying out of harm’s way, so make sure that your evacuation plan is up-to-date and that your bug-out-bag is ready to go.