Landslides and debris flows

Habitat Ready: Disaster preparedness for homeowners

Landslides and debris flows are caused by a number of factors, such as earthquakes, heavy rain, volcanic eruptions and poor land management.

They often occur in mountainous regions where loose material can easily slide downhill. The force of rocks, soil and other debris moving quickly down a slope can devastate everything in its path. Because landslides and debris flows occur quickly and with little notice, it is essential to be prepared.

Before a landslide/debris flow

  • Check out FLASH Hurricane Strong for do-it-yourself ways to strengthen your homes against flooding, high winds and lightning.
  • Review your family preparedness plan.
  • Establish a family communications plan.
  • Assemble a disaster supply kit.
  • Have a family evacuation plan in place.
  • Perform a ground assessment of your property, and consult a professional for advice on appropriate preventive measures.
  • Learn the history of landslides and debris flows in your area. Never build a home where landslides and debris flows have occurred in the past. They are likely to occur again.
  • Minimize hazards:
    • Plant ground cover on slopes. Use erosion-preventing plants such as yucca, bamboo, vetiver grass, etc.
    • If possible, build retaining walls, channels or deflection walls around your home.
  • Be familiar with landslide and debris flow warning signs:
    • New cracks appear in plaster, tile, brick, foundations, sidewalks, etc.
    • Doors and windows stick or jam for the first time.
    • Outside walls, walkways or stairs pull away from the building.
    • Underground utility lines break.
    • Water breaks through the ground surface in new locations.
    • A faint rumbling sound is noticeable and increases in volume.
    • The ground slopes downward and may begin to shift.
    • Fences, utility poles, decks, floors, retaining walls and trees tilt or move.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • Unless you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, it is recommended that you make a plan to shelter-in-place in your home, if it is safe to do so.
  • If you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, make a plan with friends or family to shelter with them where you will be safer and more comfortable.
  • Only evacuate to shelters if you are unable to shelter at home or with family or friends. Note that your regular shelter may not be open this year. Check with local authorities for the latest information about public shelters.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a landslide/debris flow

  • Be prepared to evacuate and do so immediately if necessary.
  • If you are inside, remain where you are and take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture.
  • If you are outside, run to the nearest high ground away from the landslide or debris flow.
  • If escape is not possible, curl into a tight ball to protect your head.
What’s the difference between a landslide and a debris flow?
Landslide: Masses of rock, earth or debris moving down a slope. Think of a landslide as a large chunk of material that slides down a surface.
Debris flow: Rivers of rock, earth and other debris saturated with water. The addition of water makes debris flows more fluid than landslides.

After a landslide/debris flow

  • Stay away from the slide area. There could be additional slides.
  • Avoid using the phone except in serious emergencies.
  • Remember that flooding may occur after a landslide or debris flow.
  • Help injured or trapped people. Do not move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury. Call for help.
  • Inspect your home:
    • Leave the house if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
    • Check for damage to walls, the foundation, the electrical system and water lines.
    • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches or other flammable liquids immediately.
    • Notify your insurance company and Habitat affiliate if your home is damaged.
  • Report any broken utility lines or damaged roadways to authorities.
  • Replant damaged ground as soon as possible to reduce the risk of flash flooding.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • You should continue to use preventive actions like washing your hands and wearing a face covering during clean up or when returning home.
  • It may take longer than usual to restore power and water if they are out. Take steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning if you use a generator.
  • If you are injured or ill, contact your medical provider for treatment recommendations. Keep wounds clean to prevent infection. Remember, accessing medical care may be more difficult than usual during the pandemic.
  • Dealing with disasters can cause stress and strong emotions, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is natural to feel anxiety, grief, and worry. Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family and your community recover.
  • People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration page.
  • When you check on neighbors and friends, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations (staying at least 6 feet, about two arms’ length, from others) and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • If you are sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider for further care instructions and shelter-in-place, if possible. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 and let the operator know if you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a cloth face covering before help arrives. If staying at a shelter or public facility, alert shelter staff immediately so they can call a local hospital or clinic.

Additional resources

Emergency/preparedness information

Current landslide information

Other information

Floods and flash floods

Some floods develop slowly, while others develop in just minutes. Being prepared and taking mitigation measures, such as building away from floodplains and elevating homes, can reduce the risk of damage and injuries in a flood.

Learn more

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