Take Landslides Seriously

By Adam Johnson

Today, in Sierra Leone, a catastrophic mudslide is ravaging the outskirts of Freetown. One mortuary alone reported 300 dead so far, and the final count is likely to be much higher. With the continuing rains, the danger is not over. The high level of death and destruction is due primarily to all of the poor not being able to afford to legally construct housing that is up to safety and engineering code.

But if you think it is only a problem for impoverished lands, you'd be wrong.

No region with uneven terrain is immune. In 2014, the same year hapless Sierra Leone was under threat of the Ebola virus, the deadliest landslide in U.S. history occurred in Washington state in the infamous Oso mudslide. 43 people were killed. This year, landslides have caused a number of long-term closures in California.

So what is a landslide, and what can you do to prepare for one?
A landslide is a geological event that includes mudslides and debris flows. They can be caused by earthquakes, severe weather, man-made alterations to the landscape, or poor civil engineering. Landslides globally cause massive damage in lives and property.

Before a Landslide

• Warning signs of shifting terrain in a community can sometimes be spotted early; sudden increase of cracks in foundations and pavement, doors and windows sticking, etc.
• Take note of the paths excess water in storms take, or where flows of debris or water would converge.
• Landscape your yard with concrete, trees, bushes, etc. to prevent erosion.
• As always, have emergency supplies and an emergency plan in place.

During a Landslide

• Many landslide deaths occur at night when people are sleeping. If you are awake, wake your family and neighbors.
• Evacuate if possible.
• Landslides can be fast and fierce. If you can’t outrun it, take cover
• Watch for signs that the slide or flooding may be catching up to you, such as strange noises like cracking tree branches, stream water turning form clear to muddy, etc.

After a Landslide

• While searching for survivors, avoid the main slide zone. Landslides are still possible.
• When it is safe to return, repair landscaping as soon as possible to stop further erosion.
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