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What happens after a mudslide: A checklist to prepare and respond to emergencies

September 28, 2020

Every year, mudslides and landslides cause more than $2 billion in damages to homes and businesses across the United States, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). One of the major causes of mudslides in the west is wildfires. When wildfires occur — from Colorado to Montana —  they damage the trees and plants needed to keep dirt and soil conditions moist and healthy. Without its natural ability to absorb rainfall, water sits on top of the soil and hazardous mudslides can occur without warning. 

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Similar conditions can also happen in areas experiencing extensive dry or drought conditions followed by intense rainfall or in places where vegetation has been removed for construction. Coastal cities that experience high winds and rain from hurricanes or ice storms in the winter — from Georgia to North Carolina — are also affected by mudslides. It only takes a few inches of intense rainfall to cause one. That’s why early preparation is important for homeowners across the country, not only those living in areas impacted by wildfires. From the Appalachians to the Rocky Mountains, homeowners in the U.S. should be prepared for mudslides to help reduce costly damages.

What is a mudslide?

Mudslides occur when a large amount of earth, soil, and rock moves rapidly downhill. Often, the collapse of a hillside causes mudslides impacting a large area downhill. While mudflows are created by surface water buildups carrying soil downhill, mudslides can also contain rocks, trees, and other large items. Mudslides start when a large amount of water accumulates rapidly on the ground and isn’t absorbed. The surge of water-saturated soil, along with rocks and other debris, moves downhill rapidly. Areas impacted by wildfires or that have been modified to destroy natural vegetation, especially on slopes, are particularly vulnerable to mudslides after heavy rains.

Landslides cause more than 25 deaths per year in the U.S. Additional hazards caused by mudslides include:

  • Broken electrical, water, gas, and sewage lines
  • Disrupted roads and railways
  • Destroyed vegetation, trees, and buildings

Canyons, steeply sloped areas, and places at the bottom of sloped lands are the most susceptible to mudslide damage.

Protecting homes against mudslides

As a homeowner, most of the time there’s nothing you can do to prevent a mudslide. You can, however, be prepared in case of an emergency to reduce the long-term impacts. First, stay up to date on storm and emergency warnings. For some areas, this includes cell phone text messages, emergency email broadcasts, or even audio warning broadcast systems during major weather events. Create and practice an emergency evacuation plan with your entire family, including pets. Pack an emergency kit.

Landscaping decisions can have an impact on the effects of a mudslide. Hiring a professional landscaper if your home is in an area susceptible to mudslides is a great idea. They can provide tips to help reduce soil erosion by planting trees with deep root systems and installing ground cover, as well as help identify the symptoms of soil erosion. Additional preventive measures can include installing barrier walls, improved drainage and waterproofing barriers.

For short-term preventive measures against an incoming storm, consider the following:

  • Placing sandbags around the home
  • Boarding up windows and doors
  • Laying down plastic sheeting
  • Straw bales can also be used to divert mudslides away from the home.

For areas that are prone to mudslides, there are flexible piping and gas fitting solutions that can help reduce breakage. Installing furnaces, water heaters, and electric panels above low-lying areas can also help reduce costly repairs. Finally, ensure your homeowner’s policy is up to date and additional coverage is in place if required. Save a list of valuable home items with corresponding digital photos somewhere safe outside of the home to help your claims process. Most homeowner’s insurance policies exclude floods, mudslides, and earthquakes in the coverage – requiring homeowners to purchase additional coverage.

What to do after a mudslide occurs

In addition to the damaging mess propelled downhill during a mudslide, they often also carry heavy debris like trees and boulders. These larger items can cause the most extensive damage to homes during a mudslide, including fencing, exterior buildings, walls, and even a home’s foundation.

If a mudslide occurs, once your family is safe and the disaster is over:

  • Call your insurance provider to report the damage and ask for recommended next steps
  • Ensure the area is safe and the damage is documented before cleaning up any debris inside or outside the home
  • Contact a professional restoration company to help remove water, soil, and debris
  • Report broken utility lines to the appropriate authorities and don’t touch or travel over downed power lines

In addition to damages that are easy to detect after a mudslide, they can also cause foundation instability. This occurs when moisture settles deep inside the soil. A disaster restoration service can help remove the mud and debris safely and reduce these long-term effects. After a mudslide occurs, schedule a professional foundation inspection as soon as possible to ensure your home’s foundation has not been impacted. 

Learn what steps you can take to secure your foundation and protect your home. Get a free inspection from your local foundation repair experts.