Some of the deadliest forces of nature come in the wake of other disasters. Such is the case for landslides, mudslides, and debris flows. These disasters can destroy homes, cause serious injuries, and claim lives.
Discover how to prevent mudslides from causing property damage, and what homeowners can do to keep their families safe.
What Causes Mudslides, Landslides, and Debris Flows?
Causes of Mudslides
When soil becomes oversaturated with water, it forms a thick mud. A mudslide develops when the mud and rock become displaced, surging down hillsides.
Also called mudflows, mudslides are commonly caused by rapid soil erosion on steep slopes, typically from heavy rain or snowfall. However, it’s not uncommon for mudslides to be associated with volcanic eruptions. They can also occur after wildfires, which destroy the plants that would have otherwise kept the mud and soil in place.
Mudslides tend to arrive without much warning. Even more, the sheer pressure and weight from the mud can be extremely destructive.
Causes of Landslides
According to Ready.gov, landslides occur when sections of rock, mud, or other debris move down a slope due to disturbances in the slope’s stability.
Many things can cause a landslide, including burn damage from wildfires, heavy rains, snowmelt, volcanic eruptions, large earthquakes, or even enough disturbance from cars on a nearby roadway if it isn’t constructed properly.
Landslides can be either fast or slow-moving, with the former being particularly life-threatening because of how sudden they are.
Causes of Debris Flows
Debris flows are a thick mass of soil, rock fragments of multiple sizes, and other uprooted items that form thick, concrete-like mud. These are especially dangerous because they almost always move too quickly to be outrun.
Whether from severe rainfall, snowmelt, or dam and levee breaches, debris flows are unique because they involve larger amounts of water than their counterparts. However, they’re also just as destructive as any mudflow or landslide.
How to Prepare for a Mudslide
Emergency Preparedness for Mudslides & Landslides
Since they can happen with very little warning, it’s essential to know how to prepare for a mudslide or landslide well in advance. United States government agencies at the federal and state levels recommend the following preparation measures:
- Building an emergency supply kit that’s ready to go at any time
- Having an evacuation plan for everyone in your house, including your pets
- Knowing when to recognize Emergency Alert System (EAS) alerts, in addition to those from your community’s warning system
- Setting up flood barriers, such as TrapBag®, and channels around your home during periods when landslides are more likely
- Knowing where your local evacuation shelters are located in case of an emergency
- Talking to your insurance agent to determine if you’re in a high-risk area for landslides and if you’re eligible for coverage for debris flow damage
What to Keep in Your Emergency Kit
When you’re building your emergency kit, it’s critical to include everything you’ll need to survive for several days. We’ve broken down the recommended contents of what to keep in an emergency kit into several categories.
Basic Survival Essentials
- Water: One gallon per person per day, for a minimum of three days, for drinking and sanitation
- Food: Non-perishable food supplies for a minimum of three days, including food for pets
- Can opener: To open your non-perishable food supplies
- Radio: A battery-operated or hand crank radio, ideally a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
- Flashlight: Don’t rely on your phone’s flashlight—you might need the phone’s battery to call for help in a life-threatening situation.
- Moist towelettes and garbage bags: These are ideal for personal sanitation purposes.
- Cell phone: Include chargers and a backup battery if possible.
- First aid kit: This should include multiple sizes of bandage strips, finger splints, tweezers, gauze pads, and any other basics you might need in the event of injury.
Essentials for Staying Healthy in an Emergency
- Medications: Both prescription and over-the-counter medications should be included.
- Dust mask: KN-95 masks are ideal for protecting your lungs from even the finest particulate matter in the event of a wildfire or explosion.
- Disinfectants: This can be anything from soap to disinfecting wipes or hand sanitizer.
- Blankets or sleeping bags: One per person can prevent family members from developing hypothermia in cold-weather situations.
- Personal hygiene items: This includes toothbrushes, mouthwash, pads, and tampons for those who need them.
Other Emergency Supplies for Your Kit
- Wrenches or pliers: These can be used to shut off gas or water utilities in a pinch.
- Local maps: While map applications have become a convenient tool, it pays to have these on hand if you need your cell phone or GPS for other things.
- Cash: Credit card readers may not be available during a mass power outage, making it handy to have some money on hand.
- Documents: Keep a copy of your insurance policies, bank records, or identification records like passports or driver’s licenses in a waterproof container or bag.
- Matches or lighters: These also should be kept in a waterproof container.
- Books, puzzles, or other entertainment that doesn’t need batteries: These can be a lifesaver if you have children in your household.
How to Protect Your Home from Mudslides Before the Event
When looking for solutions that can prevent mudslide damage, it’s critical to make sure you find options that are certified to withstand debris flows and mudslides.
While sandbags and retaining walls won’t stop or change the path of a debris flow, you can take additional steps as a homeowner by using TrapBag to deflect the debris flow around your property. This can be a great way to prevent your home from being destroyed during a landslide or mudflow.
What to Do During a Landslide or Mudslide
1. Evacuate During a Mudslide
You absolutely should not stay in your home when there is a risk of a landslide or mudslide coming. Evacuate to higher, stabler ground immediately—valleys and low-lying areas are dangerous. Your community may have established evacuation shelters, so stay aware of which ones local officials have opened.
Part of knowing when to evacuate is also knowing that if you see or hear a debris flow coming, it is likely too late to get away safely. Be ready to leave as soon as local emergency managers indicate there is a risk warranting evacuation.
If you do find yourself in the path of a landslide, remain calm and move uphill as quickly as possible.
2. Stay Alert
Many landslides or mudslides in the past have turned deadly because they occurred at night while their victims were sleeping. Stay awake and alert at all times if your home is at risk of a mudslide.
Using your NOAA Weather Radio or hand crank radio, tune into local news stations to stay informed of the latest updates. Paying close attention to these news alerts can help your family stay safe.
3. Stay Healthy
Having your emergency kit on hand can help everyone in your household stay healthy and prevent injuries from becoming serious or infected. Make sure everyone has access to clean water, non-perishable food, and any medications they may need until the all-clear is given and you can return home.
What to Do After a Landslide or Mudslide
Once the danger has passed, your family can start to head home once evacuation orders are lifted. However, we do have some tips to remain safe after the threat has passed:
- Stay away from the landslide area: As much as curiosity might be at play, there may be a risk of additional landslides.
- Check for injured people: Without entering the area directly impacted by the slide, see if there are any injured or trapped neighbors near the area and alert rescue crews to their locations.
- Report damage: Broken utility lines, washed-out roads, and damaged railways can cause even more problems if they’re not reported.
- Call an inspector: Your home’s foundation, chimney, and other parts of the structure could be damaged, but a home inspector can help you identify these problems for insurance purposes.
- Replant vegetation: Planting grass, shrubs, and other vegetation after a landslide can prevent future flash flooding and subsequent landslides.
How to Prevent Mudslides from Causing Damage with TrapBag
A TrapBag unit makes for an excellent debris flow barrier, protecting your home from the worst of the damage during a mudflow or landslide by diverting the mud away from your property.
Setting Up TrapBag Barriers Before a Mudslide
Homeowners can assemble a TrapBag barrier by themselves in just a few easy steps ahead of potential mudslide conditions, saving precious time while protecting their property.
1. Open the Packaging
The entire TrapBag barrier comes folded up in its packaging like an accordion. Stretch the barrier out to its desired length in the shape you need, up to 50 feet. This takes just seconds to do.
2. Fill the Cells
The process of filling the TrapBag cells can be done with shovels and buckets, or all at once with a dump truck or bulldozer. Concrete and washed gravel are excellent filler materials, especially during mudslides.
3. Place or Stack the Barrier Where Needed
Filled TrapBags can be set as freestanding barriers, set against existing retaining walls or slopes for reinforcement, or stacked on top of each other to protect the lower levels of a home or other building.
Removing TrapBags After a Mudslide
To remove your used TrapBags, cut open each cell on the vertical side, from the bottom up. This will allow the fill material to escape. Then, remove the plastic with a thumb and bucket on a mini excavator.
Can TrapBags Be Reused?
No, TrapBags cannot be reused. If you ever need to install more TrapBags, you should be sure to use a new barrier to protect your property.
Prevent Mudslides with TrapBag
The worst property damage from mudslides and landslides can be prevented using debris flow barriers like TrapBag. To see how TrapBag can protect your home and property from devastation, call us at (239) 674-6611, or contact us online today.