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How to Survive a Landslide [Landslide Survival Kit]

Prepare to survive a landslide by subscribing to a landslide warning service, prepping a landslide survival kit and reinforcing your home and property.

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Landslides are not the most spoken about natural disasters. That’s probably because, compared to other natural disasters like floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes, landslides are less deadly.

But any destruction or loss of life resulting from natural occurrences counts for a lot, which is why it is important to know how to survive a landslide and be prepared in advance.

You can prepare to survive a landslide by subscribing to a landslide warning service, building a landslide survival kit, reinforcing your home, building retaining walls, and conserving the vegetation around your property.

Survive during a landslide by looking out for landslide herald signs, heeding landslide warning and evacuation calls, staying indoors when you can’t evacuate, and curling into a tight ball to protect your head.

After a landslide, stay safe by not occupying your house until it’s declared safe, watching out for consequent flooding, replanting damaged vegetation, and repairing damaged retaining walls.

Boulders blocking a road in the aftermath of a landslide

If you live in landslide and mudslide prone areas, knowing the herald signs and being prepared to evacuate and evade the dangers caused by this natural occurrence is crucial.

This article will tell you all you need to know about how landslides happen, the risk factors, how to prevent a landslide, and how to prepare for a landslide. To start you off, we tell you what landslides are and whether you should be worried about their occurrence.

In a hurry? If you just want to get to our conclusions, here are our top picks and recommendations!

Last update on 2021-09-23 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Table Of Contents show

What are Landslides (and Mudslides)?

A landslide is a geological occurrence characterized by the movement of rocks, soil, and debris down a slope. They are triggered by disruptions in the natural stability of a slope which could be a result of:

  • Heavy rain
  • Loose soil due to droughts, wildfires, and the human destruction of vegetation
  • Earthquakes
  • Volcanic eruptions

Though landslides and mudslides are often used as synonyms, mudslides (also known as debris flows) are high-speed debris, earth, and rock flows that usually happen on steep slopes and tend to flow in channels. They occur when the ground is saturated and the water forms 60% of the sliding mud.

Types of Landslides

Landslides are usually categorized according to their movement and the material that comes down.

Falls and topples describe landslides involving the release of heavy blocks and their thunderous fall down a steep slope or cliff. Included in this category are also tumbling boulders.

Translational slides are landslides where material on the surface of the earth is separated from the underlying layer and moved from its original position down a slope.

Lateral spreads/flows describe landslides where surface material is quickly moved laterally/sideways owing to a powerful force as in the case of an earthquake.

Volcanic landslides (lahars) follow volcanic eruptions and are the most deadly and destructive form of landslides.

One such landslide is the Mount St. Helens of 1980 that came after a volcanic eruption. The landslide had 2.9 cubic kilometers of soil, rock, water, ash, and vegetation and covered 62sqkm.

57 people and thousands of animals were killed by the landslide and more than 200 homes were destroyed. Besides, 15 miles of railway and more than 185 miles of road were damaged.

The video below shows the 1980 Mount St. Helens Eruption

Should you be Worried About the Danger of Landslides?

Landslides are a real threat. The WHO indicates that they are the most common geological events.

According to WHO, landslides accounted for 18,000 deaths and disrupted the lives of around 4.8 million people worldwide in the period between 1998 and 2017.

In the US, it is estimated that mud and landslides cause between 25 and 50 deaths every year. In addition, the US Geological Survey estimates that around $2-$4 billion losses are incurred each year due to landslides.

However, deaths, lost homes and livelihoods, and billions of dollars in losses are not the only dangers that come with landslides. People in landslide areas also have to deal with the health risks resulting from this calamity.

Health risks resulting from landslides

The displacement of soil and rock that comes with landslides destroys utility lines (electricity, gas, water, and sewerage lines) and blocks road and railways. This can cause several health risks:

  • Disrupted water and sewerage systems can easily contaminate water sources, triggering water-borne diseases.
  • Rolling rocks and debris endangers the lives of motorists and residents down an affected hill or slope and can cause serious injury or death.
  • Blocked roads and rails can delay efforts in accessing medical care, putting lives in greater danger.
  • The experience of fast-moving land can leave affected people psychologically traumatized.
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What areas are most prone to Landslides?

Slopes and areas where the earth/soil is vulnerable are most prone to landslides. These include:

  • Areas where landslides have happened before.
  • Steep slopes and slope base.
  • Areas adjacent to drainage hollows.
  • Hillsides where leach field sewers have been constructed.
  • High saturated ground.
  • Areas where wildfires and human activity have destroyed vegetation and left the soil bare.
  • Slopes whose natural structure has been altered by the construction of buildings, roads, bridges, and railways.
  • River and stream channels.
  • Areas where surface runoff is redirected to.

If you live or temporarily find yourself around these areas, you should consider yourself at risk of landslides.

Even though experts say landslides can happen anywhere, some areas are generally considered safe from landslides.

Check out the video below for some examples of devastating landslides in various parts of the World.

What areas are considered safe from landslides?

  • Areas where landslides have not occurred before.
  • Areas that are on hard non-jointed bedrock.
  • Flatlands that are not prone to the sudden change in slope angle.
  • Areas at the top of ridges and which are set back from slope tops.

One way of minimizing your susceptibility to landslide risks is by knowing the signs that precede their occurrence.

Landslide Warning Signs

Landslides can happen with or without prior warning. You should lookout for these signs that could tell you of a landslide before it happens.

  • Tilting trees, and telephone or power poles
  • Jammed house doors and windows that have no apparent hinge issues but instead indicate frames and jambs that are out of plumb.
  • Sudden and unusual bulges and cracks on the ground, roads, or streets.
  • Cracking and tilting concrete building foundations and floors.
  • Saturated ground in areas that have normally been dry.
  • New springs and seeps on slopes or slope base.
  • Soil that suddenly moves away from its holding foundation.
  • The separation of ancillary structures such as patios and decks from the main house.
  • Exposed or broken underground utility lines.
  • Slanting fence lines.
  • Recessed or depressed roadbeds.
  • Increased soil content in streams and rivers.
  • The rumbling sound of moving rock, soil, and debris at the initial of a landslide.
  • You may also receive landslide warnings from geologists.

Old and latest means of forecasting landslides

Geologists can use old or the latest means to predict landslides including these two:

Using geological maps

Geologists conduct surveys in which they map landslide-prone areas and consequently offer advice regarding safety, land use, and infrastructural development.

Such information can help you evade high landslide-prone areas when deciding for home or business construction.

Using landslide fiber-optic sensors

These are the latest means of forecasting landslides that have replaced the old electrical sensors.

Fiber-optic sensors are embedded in shallow trenches on slopes so they can detect minute or large shifts in the soil that eventually lead to landslides. From these signals, geologists predict an impending landslide and send landslide warning via official information mediums.

Compared to the old electrical sensors, fiber-optic sensors are more precise and sensitive to soil shifts and are also considered more economical.

From the foregoing, it’s evident that knowing how to survive a landslide is paramount, and that implies 3 things:

  • Preparing now to survive a landslide.
  • Knowing how to survive during a landslide.
  • Staying safe after the landslide.

Prepare Now to Survive a Landslide

Being ready to survive a landslide is especially important for people who live in landslide-prone areas. To increase your chances of survival, prepare now by following these 6 landslide survival tips.

Know your area’s susceptibility to landslides

Seek information about the susceptibility of your area to landslides and ask about past occurrences. This will help you know how much risk you would be exposed to.

Ensure you get this information from reliable sources and do not assume that landslides will always repeat past trends.

In the US, all 50 states are susceptible to landslides but some are at higher risk than others. States with heavy rains, hilly terrains, and those that are prone to earthquakes and wildfires are especially at risk including Colorado, Kentucky, Alaska, Oregon, Hawaii, Washington, Montana, Utah, and California.

Seek advice on how to protect your house from a landslide

Ask a professional geotechnical how to protect hour house from a landslide and hire their services to assess how secure your property is from landslides.

Follow their advice to reinforce your property as a preventative measure. This may mean taking one or more of these measures:

  • Using flexible pipe fittings because they resist breakage better.
  • Plant ground cover on slopes near your property.
  • Construct channels, building retaining walls, and deflection walls to direct the flow around your property.
  • Above all, avoid constructing next to mountain edges, steep slopes, along natural erosion basins, and near drainage channels.

Subscribe to a landslide warning service and heed evacuation warnings

Subscribe to official landslide warning services so that you can receive alerts on time. Also, heed evacuation warnings as soon as you are advised to. Official evacuation warnings will also inform you about shelters close to your location where you can seek refuge.

You can also follow landslide forecasting maps to see if your area has an active landslide advisory or warning. See an example of a landslide forecasting map from this map of daily forecasts for precipitation-induced shallow landslides in Washington State.

Prevent a landslide

Landslides will follow a natural occurrence as long as the triggering factors are present. Nonetheless, you can prevent a landslide by avoiding human activities that aggravate the risk of landslides.

Here are 7 things you can do to prevent/minimize the occurrence of landslides:

  • Follow proper land-use procedures: do not build near mountain edges, drainage ways natural erosion basins, and steep slopes.
  • Do not tamper with vegetation on slopes to help avoid loose soil and resulting soil erosion.
  • Do not dispose of yard waste on slopes.
  • Avoid activities that increase water volumes of downslope rain/storm-water runoffs.
  • Do not set irrigation systems on hillsides.
  • Do not construct swimming pools or sewer tanks near a slope.
  • Modify the slope geometry around your property to make it better resist the force of landslides by building piles, retaining walls, diverting debris pathways, and redirecting surface and underground water draining. Always consult the services of a professional for this.
Disaster and emergency preparedness checklist

Create and discuss a family communication/evacuation plan

Create a family evacuation and communication plan by ensuring that:

  • Everyone in the family is subscribed to landslide alert service.
  • Everyone in the family knows what to do when a landslide happens.
  • Everyone in the family knows about local response services and available rescues (decide where you will meet in case a landslide separates you).
  • Everyone in the family has contact details for official rescue agents and communication with the other family members.

Talk to your insurance agent about landslide damage cover

There’s usually no specific insurance cover for landslide damage. To help you get back on your feet should a landslide destroy your property, talk to your agent to find out if you can incorporate landslide damage into flood insurance policies.

Your insurance agent may ask you to hire the services of a professional geotechnical to assess your property’s landslide susceptibility before determining the insurance policy cost.

Build a landslide survival kit

Having a landslide survival kit ready is important in case you have to grab it and leave your home when a landslide warning is issued or in case you have to be evacuated.

A landslide emergency kit should include a first aid kit as well as other survival gear and supplies.

Here’s a landslide gear checklist that will help you get your emergency kit together.

Well stocked first aid kit medicine box
Any serious prepper needs to have a well stocked first aid kit.

Medical emergency kit

If you are caught up in a landslide, chances are you may have an injury from the rough debris flow or you may get sick from the strain caused by the situation. To be on the safe side, prepare a first aid kit to be included in your landslide emergency kit.

Your landslide first aid kit should include:

  • Prescription drugs (antibiotics and chronic & long term conditions drugs), 7-day supply
  • Non-prescription drugs (aspirins, ibuprofen, and paracetamol), 7-day supply
  • Bandages
  • Sterilized gauze
  • Antibiotic ointments
  • Alcohol swabs
  • First aid wound disinfectants
  • Eyewash
  • Adhesive tape
  • Safety pins
  • Scissors
  • A pair of tweezers
  • Thermometer
  • Cold packs
  • First aid manual

You can also opt to purchase a readymade first aid kit. These are usually advised because they contain all the needed emergency medical supplies.

You’ll only need to include any additional prescription meds that you may need for chronic or long term conditions.

Here’s our choice for Best landslide first aid kit from Amazon:

Be Smart Get Prepared 100Piece First Aid Kit

You’ve certainly seen this famous first aid kit around. Its plastic casing makes is quite handy for any situation, more so for landslide emergency where you may need to keep everything dry and safe from water and dust.

The kit has 100 pieces of medical supplies including bandages, a cold compress pack, cotton swaps, adhesive, tape, and a guide manual.

The Be Smart kit is regulated by the US FDA standards. You can easily carry it by itself as it has a secure handle. You can also pack it in a bigger landslide gear bag since it is only 7.5ʺ x 2.5ʺ x 6.8ʺ.

Last update on 2021-09-23 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Basic landslide survival kit supplies

  • Water (one gallon per person per day)
  • Food (3-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Personal hygiene items (soap, toothpaste and brush, sanitary towels, etc.)
  • Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • Flashlight
  • Whistle or signal flare
  • Wet wipes and paper towels
  • Garbage bags
  • Surgical or N95 masks
  • Can opener
  • Paper/plastic cups, and plates
  • Compass and waterproof map
  • Waterproof matches
  • Cash or traveler's checks
  • Family documents (Birth and death certificates, copies of insurance policies, National ID, homeownership deeds, bank account records, etc.)
  • A multi-purpose tool. Consider the Leatherman Wave Plus Multitool on Amazon.
LEATHERMAN, Wave Plus Multitool with Premium Replaceable Wire Cutters, Spring-Action Scissors and Nylon Sheath, Built in the USA, Black
  • READY FOR ANYTHING: A fresh upgrade to our most popular multitool; Now includes premium replaceable wire cutters for tackling jobs tough, big and small for years to come
  • INSTANT TOOLKIT: Packs a quiver of 18 tools, including pliers, replaceable wire cutters, wire stripper, knives, saw, spring-action scissors, ruler, can & bottle openers, files and screwdrivers

Last update on 2021-09-23 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Landslide survival clothing and bedding

Consider that landslides are more likely to happen during wet weather and you will need clothing and shoes to keep you warm and dry. Here’s a proposal for landslide survival clothing:

  • A coat or jacket
  • Long sleeve shirt or top
  • Long pants
  • A pair of gloves
  • Sturdy shoes or boots
  • A hat
  • A mini tent
  • Warm blanket
  • Sleeping bag

With your landslide survival kit ready, you are set for any eventuality, but you still need to know what to do during a landslide.

Know How to Survive During a Landslide

Knowing how to survive during a landslide means following key landslide precautions and using certain survival skills during landslides.

Here’s are 8 landslide precautions you should follow:

Look out for landslide signs

Look out for any signs that announce the occurrence of a landslide:

  • High volumes of storm-water drainage on steep slopes around your home especially in places where runoff water converges.
  • Highly saturated ground.
  • Unusual rumbling sounds that gradually become louder.
  • Holes or bare spots on hillsides that did not exist before.
  • Mild earthquakes and land shake.
  • Signs of moving ground like tilted trees, fences, walls, and telephone and electricity poles. Also, notice any sudden cracks on walls or doors and windows that don’t shut or open.
Trying to survive a landslide on a collapsed road

Evacuate in advance if you need to

If you see signs that suggest the occurrence of a landslide, evacuate before it is too late. It is better to act on a false alarm than not to act at all and risk your life.

If your home is on a landslide or debris-flow path, evacuate immediately at the first sign of landslide warning.

Be your brother’s/sister’s keeper

During natural disasters, looking out for each other can help avoid adverse effects and save lives. Consider these actions when a landslide is imminent or already occurring.

  • Report herald signs of landslides to local officials so they can assess possible landslide danger.
  • Inform neighbors of potential landslide signs so they can be advised about the need to evacuate or take necessary precautions.
  • Help neighbors who may not be able to get to safety before a landslide happens: people in wheelchairs or with chronic disease and the elderly.

Remember to always be safe first before offering help.

Stay indoors if you can’t evacuate

If a landslide catches up with you before you can evacuate, stay indoors, and use your phone to ask for help from local officials.

Use whistles and/or signal flares from your landslide survival kit to draw the attention of evacuation agents.

Protect your head if caught up by a landslide

If you find yourself in the middle of a landslide flow, use a blanket or some heavy cloth to cover your body for protection, and cover your head from debris by curling into a tight ball. This position also prevents you from swallowing water in case there’s a water flow.

Hopefully, the landslide will not burry you completely and if it does, the dirt will be shallow and loose enough to let you dig yourself out.

Do not try to outrun an already occurring landslide. It would be impossible to do so. Landslides travel at speeds of 55-100kmph.

Stay alert/awake during storms

If you are home during a storm or one is happening at night, stay alert/awake. A lot of landslide deaths happen to people sleeping during the night.

Consistently listen to landslide news on your battery-powered radio for warnings of looming landslide or for instructions to evacuate and head to specified rescue centers.

Do not leave your house for work or other commitments during or after a storm until the authorities announce that it is safe to do so; that’s unless you are evacuating.

Contents of an emergency disaster survival kit: water, first aid kit, backpack, fire starters, food

Avoid danger spots if you are on foot

If you are walking during a possible or an already occurring landslide, try as much as possible to stay away from the landslide path.

Avoid crossing rivers or mudflows even if they seem to be at manageable levels. Also, avoid valleys and low-lying areas and try to walk uphill if you can.

Be extra cautious when driving

If you are driving in the imminence of a landslide, stay extremely alert for these landslide signs on the road:

  • Cracks on the road
  • Collapsed pavements
  • Fallen rocks and mud
  • Debris paths on the road

Also, watch out for fallen bridges and flooding streams. Avoid embankments along roadsides as they are highly susceptible to landslides.

Stay Safe After a Landslide

If you were well prepared for a landslide and have successfully survived one, it is important to continue keeping watch until you are sure you are no longer in danger.

Follow these 8 after-landslide survival tips to continue staying safe:

Stay where you are until it’s safe to move

It is hard to tell by just watching when a landslide has stopped. Besides, loosened earth, rocks, and debris can continue moving for days after the major landslide.

As such, it’s important to rely on official reports to know when you can return home or move from your safety location.

Watch out for flooding

Floods sometimes happen after a landslide owing to broken river or dam banks or the disruption of water bodies that causes them to overflow.

Beware of possible flooding from such causes and take your time before rushing back home or driving along roads where a landslide has just happened.

Stay away from broken utility lines

Avoid broken power and gas lines. The previous may be still charged and can cause electrocution while the latter are highly inflammable and can intoxicate or cause a fire at the slightest introduction of a flame.

Keep away from broken sewers systems as well as these are active sources of disease-causing bacteria.

Survival gear for home spread out on a surface

Help a landslide victim only when possible

Notice any injured persons and animals or those trapped near a slide and offer a helping hand if you can do so without risking your own life. Alternatively, alert rescue authorities on persons or animals in need of rescue.

Never enter a slide area to offer help unless you are trained in disaster evacuation skills.

Report your safety

Help authorities account for lives in a landslide-hit location by reporting your safety through SMS or on designated internet sites. This will also serve to notify distant family members that you are safe.

Always avoid calls during natural disasters to keep emergency lines free for more critical issues.

Assess your house for safety before re-occupying it

Seek the services of a professional to assess the security of your house before going in after a landslide. A damaged house could easily collapse even by just opening a door.

Be especially attentive to cracks on walls, jammed doors and windows, separated patios, and flattened roofs among other signs of damage.

You may not notice a damaged foundation. So professional assessment on your property is always advised if a landslide has happened around your home.

Prevent future landslides

Prevent future landslides by replanting damaged vegetation around your home. This will also prevent further soil erosion in case of normal rainfalls.

Also, repair retaining and deflection walls and piles, re-divert debris pathways, and redirect surface and underground water drainages. Work with a professional to ensure you do it right.

Make an insurance claim for landslide damages

If you had consulted your insurance agent about incorporating a landslide cover with your flood insurance cover, record the damages incurred on your property and the contents by taking photos and file a landslide damage insurance claim.

How to Survive a Landslide FAQs

These three questions on landslides are often asked and can give you additional info on what you have learned so far.

What is the difference between a landslide warning, a landslide watch, and a landslide advisory?

A landslide advisory is a general statement about the possibility of a landslide happening in a region say because of heavy rainfall and the invitation to stay alert and follow landslide precautions.

A landslide watch indicates the high possibility of a landslide but not happening yet.

A landslide warning communicates already occurring landslide activity and the invitation to take extra safety measures.

What are landslide susceptibility maps?

Landslide susceptibility maps, also known as landslide potential maps, are maps that show the relative probability of the occurrence of landslides based on intrinsic factors in a certain area.

The most common factors that are considered in creating landslide susceptibility maps are past data on landslides, the strength of the rock and soil, and the steepness of slopes in the area.

Which human activities cause landslides?

Human activities that cause landslides are those that alter the slope geometry and render the soil loose or susceptible to waterlogging. They include:

  • The construction of roads and property without proper grading of slopes.
  • The redirection of water drainage and runoffs without proper planning.
  • Activities that reawaken old landslides.
  • The cutting of trees and deforestation.

How to Survive a Landslide Summary

Landslides may not be discussed often like other natural disasters but they can be deadly and extremely destructive. As such, we should take measures to stay safe before, during, and after landslides.

Before a landslide: prepare to survive a landslide with an emergency medical kit, by subscribing to official landslide alerts, reinforcing your house, and protecting it with retaining walls and vegetation.

During a landslide: survive by heeding landslide warnings, evacuating, staying indoors if you can’t evacuate, and curling into a tight ball to protect your head.

After a landslide: be safe by not moving until advised to do so, avoiding your house before it is declared safe, and repairing landslide prevention structures such as retaining walls and damaged vegetation around your home.

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Hi, I'm Russ!

I've been prepping for a long time, but 2020 convinced me that I need to take it to the next level.

This website started as a way to keep me going forward on the path to being better prepared.

Now, I’m turning it into a complete blueprint for anyone else looking to do the same!
Russell M. Morgan
Telson Survival

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