Protect Your Home From Mudslides

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A landslide is a general term used for any downhill movement of snow, ice, mud, soil or rocks. Mudslides are mostly mud and water mixed with rocks, and can move fast enough to push buildings off their foundations, bury homes and overcome running people or animals.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, landslides and mudslides cause an estimated $1 to $2 billion in damages each year, and cause at least 25 deaths. This destructive force of nature occurs in every state, with particular risk to those living in areas with:

  • Previous landslides
  • Steep slopes, or at the bottom of canyons
  • Lack of vegetation due to wildfires or human action
  • Slopes that have been cut or altered for construction
  • Runoff channels

If you live in an area with a history of mudslides, or conditions that make slides likely in the future, you can take steps to minimize damage to your home in case the earth comes tumbling down.

Take Precautions

  • Check your homeowner’s insurance. Most policies will not cover damage from mudslides if your home is in a high-risk area. You may need to purchase additional homeowner’s insurance that specifically covers this type of damage.
  • Avoid buying homes built on steep slopes, and don’t grade or cut into slopes around your home.
  • Assume that mudslides are a possibility if you live on a slope or hill, or in an area that has experienced wildfires.
  • Cover exposed hills on your property with vegetation, and keep it watered.
  • Watch for cracks, holes, buckling or other unusual changes in the land around your home.
  • Build retaining walls at the base of any slopes on your property, and angle them to channel drainage away from your home.
  • Get a geological survey of your property, preferably before you move in.
  • Have an emergency plan established with your family, and practice steps to take in case of a mandatory evacuation or natural disaster.

What To Do If Mud Slide Warnings Are Issued

Mudslides occur when rainfall is so rapid or extended the soil can no longer absorb it, and weakened areas give way. If your area has been hit with heavy rain, and flash flood or slide warnings are in effect, get ready to protect your home.

  • Listen to the news, and leave your home if ordered to do so by authorities.
  • Use sandbags to create flow diversion channels, and form retaining walls between your home and slopes.
  • Board up windows or doors that face slopes.
  • Watch for warning signs such as widening cracks in the ground, rumbling sounds, trees creaking, water coming out of the ground, doors or windows suddenly sticking, new cracks in the walls of your home, leaning trees or bulging ground.
  • Keep pets inside, and have any carrying crates, leashes or other restraints ready in case you need to leave the home.
  • Stay alert. If possible, stay awake until the immediate threat has passed.

What To Do If A Mud Slide Is Imminent

  • If you see or hear signs of an imminent mudslide, evacuate immediately, and head away from the path the flow will follow.
  • Run or drive sideways as well as downhill, since mudslides can move very quickly and you may not be able to out run it. Moving to the side, out of the flow’s path, may be the quickest way to escape.
  • Alert authorities, and nearby neighbors.
  • If you are unable to leave your home and a slide begins, get to the highest level possible, curl in a ball and protect your head.

After A Mudslide

Once the mudslide has ended, you must still be alert and cautious.

  • Do not enter the slide area, as there may be further mudslides.
  • Check on neighbors. Lend a hand to elderly neighbors, or those with small children who may be overwhelmed.
  • Turn on a radio and listen to news reports and local updates.
  • Be on the lookout for flooded areas, especially across roadways and low-lying areas.
  • Do not touch any downed power lines, but report them to local authorities.
  • If you can safely approach your home, check for structural damage in the walls, chimneys, foundation, staircases and water or gas lines.
  • Stay away from trees that are leaning or that have significant mud or debris piled against them.

Mudslides can be deadly, and are one of the most common natural disasters. Though no hilled area is entirely safe from possible landslides, if your home is in a high-risk area, you can minimize potential damage to your home by taking basic precautions long before the rain falls.

Last Updated: November 13, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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