How many deaths result from landslides each year?

An average of 25-50 people are killed by landslides each year in the United States. The worldwide death toll per year due to landslides is in the thousands. Most landslide fatalities are from rock falls, debris flows, or volcanic debris flows (called lahars).

Twenty-three people were killed, at least 167 injured, and more than 400 homes were damaged by a series of debris flows that impacted the California community of Montecito in Santa Barbara County on January 9, 2018. The debris flows were triggered by heavy rain that fell on steep hillsides that had been burned by the Thomas Wildfire, which at that time was the largest wildfire in California history.

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What should I know about wildfires and debris flows?

Wildland fires are inevitable in the western United States. Expansion of human development into forested areas has created a situation where wildfires can adversely affect lives and property, as can the flooding and landslides that occur in the aftermath of the fires. There is a need to develop tools and methods to identify and quantify the...

How do landslides cause tsunamis?

Tsunamis are large, potentially deadly and destructive sea waves, most of which are formed as a result of submarine earthquakes. They can also result from the eruption or collapse of island or coastal volcanoes and from giant landslides on marine margins. These landslides, in turn, are often triggered by earthquakes. Tsunamis can be generated on...

Under what circumstances do U.S. Geological Survey landslide personnel conduct field work in landslide-prone areas?

USGS landslide researchers have ongoing field projects in several areas of the United States, including parts of the Pacific coastal ranges, Rocky Mountains, and the Appalachians. USGS scientists also respond to major landslide events, including some that result in federally-declared disasters. In some cases, USGS scientists respond to landslides...

Can major landslides and debris flows happen in all areas of the U.S.?

Landslides can and do occur in every state and territory of the U.S.; however, the type, severity, and frequency of landslide activity varies from place to place, depending on the terrain, geology, and climate. Major storms have caused major or widespread landslides in Washington state, Oregon, California, Colorado, Idaho, Hawaii, Virginia, Ohio,...

What was the largest landslide in the United States? In the world?

The largest subaerial (on land) landslide in Earth's recorded history was connected with the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington state, USA. That landslide had a volume of 2.8 cubic kilometers (0.67 cubic miles) of material and the landslide traveled about 22.5 kilometers (14 miles) down the North Fork Toutle River. Average...

What is the difference between a landslide advisory, a landslide watch, and a landslide warning?

An advisory is a general statement about the potential of landslide activity in a given region relative to developing rainfall predictions. An advisory may include general statements about rainfall conditions that can lead to debris-flow activity, and list precautions to be taken in the event of heavy rainfall. A watch means that landslide-...

Do human activities cause landslides?

Yes, in some cases human activities can be a contributing factor in causing landslides. Many human-caused landslides can be avoided or mitigated. They are commonly a result of building roads and structures without adequate grading of slopes, poorly planned alteration of drainage patterns, and disturbing old landslides. Detailed on-site...

Why study landslides?

Landslides are a serious geologic hazard common to almost every State in the United States. As people move into new areas of hilly or mountainous terrain, it is important to understand the nature of their potential exposure to landslide hazards, and how cities, towns, and counties can plan for land-use, engineering of new construction and...

What is a landslide and what causes one?

A landslide is defined as the movement of a mass of rock, debris, or earth down a slope. Landslides are a type of "mass wasting," which denotes any down-slope movement of soil and rock under the direct influence of gravity. The term "landslide" encompasses five modes of slope movement: falls, topples, slides, spreads, and flows. These are further...
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Date published: February 6, 2020

New Landslide Guidebook for Puerto Rico Residents

A new landslide guidebook released February 5 is now available for Puerto Rico residents to learn more about the landslide hazards that can impact the island.

Date published: October 9, 2019

Landslide Risks Highlighted in New Online Tool

The U.S. Geological Survey today unveiled a new web-based interactive map that marks an important step toward mapping areas that could be at higher risk for future landslides. In collaboration with state geological surveys and other federal agencies, USGS has compiled much of the existing landslide data into a searchable, web-based interactive map called the U.S. Landslide Inventory Map.

Date published: August 22, 2019

Potential Landslide Paths and Implications for Tsunami Hazards in Glacier Bay, Alaska – An Initial Investigation

A new "Science for Everyone" article summarizes a recent publication about the potential of landslide-triggered tsunamis in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

Date published: March 20, 2019

Five Years Later - The Oso (SR 530) Landslide in Washington

The Oso (SR 530) Landslide in Washington - Five Years Later 

The following is an updated version of a story first published in March of 2015.

Date published: July 20, 2017

Landslide Assistance from the Air

The USGS uses cutting edge technologies to investigate and forecast landslides and other natural hazards.

Date published: July 11, 2017

Huge landslide on California’s Big Sur coast continues to change

The Mud Creek landslide on California’s Big Sur coast keeps eroding.

Date published: May 27, 2017

USGS helping to monitor and assess huge Big Sur landslide

USGS is collecting and analyzing air photos to help monitor a huge landslide that occurred May 20 on California’s Big Sur coast.

Date published: January 5, 2017

Predicting Postfire Debris Flows Saves Lives

When wildfires spread and scorch the earth, people like Penny Luehring have to act fast. Secondary impacts such as debris flows can be devastating to nearby communities.

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October 27, 2016

PubTalk 10/2016 — Rockfalls in California's Sierra Nevada

Rock falls in California’s Sierra Nevada - Pursuing explanations for exfoliation and seemingly spontaneous fracture of rock
 

Oso landslide. Huge swath of mountain missing.
December 31, 2014

Oso landslide

Oso landslide 2014

Attribution: Natural Hazards
A volcano monitoring “spider” deployed by helicopter to the Oso landslide to track ground movement and seismicity
June 4, 2014

A volcano monitoring “spider” deployed to the Oso landslide

A volcano monitoring “spider” was deployed by helicopter to the Oso landslide to track ground movement and seismicity while search-and-rescue operations were ongoing.  The spider was equipped with a seismometer (mounted on the far left leg) to track ground shaking and GPS (a dome-shaped instrument on the upper mast) to track subtle ground movement.  Data was transmitted

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Image: 2014 Landslide in Washington State
March 24, 2014

2014 Landslide in Washington State

Photograph from an aerial survey showing the extent and impacts from the landslide in northwest Washington that occurred on March 22, 2014. The survey was conducted by the Washington State Department of Transportation, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, USGS, and King County Sheriff's Office.

May 9, 2012

Volcano Web Shorts 2: Debris Flows

Debris flows are hazardous flows of rock, sediment and water that surge down mountain slopes and into adjacent valleys. Hydrologist Richard Iverson describes the nature of debris-flow research and explains how debris flow experiments are conducted at the USGS Debris Flow Flume, west of Eugene, Oregon. Spectacular debris flow footage, recorded by Franck Lavigne of the

Landslide approaching housed
March 29, 2007

Landslide at La Conchita, California

Landslide at La Conchita, California

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Image: 2008 Landslide Near Hongyan Resort, China

2008 Landslide Near Hongyan Resort, China

The May 12, 2008, Great Sichuan Earthquake, also called the Wenchuan Earthquake, occurred at 14:28 local time, in Sichuan Province, China. The earthquake magnitudes were Mw = 7.9 (USGS), Ms = 8.0 (Chinese Earthquake Administration). The epicenter was 80 km west-northwest of Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province. Damage by earthquake-induced landslides was

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Image: Earthquake and Landslides in the Union of the Comoros

Earthquake and Landslides in the Union of the Comoros

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake struck the island of Anjouan in the Union of the Comoros on March 12, 2014.  Heavy rainfall trigger landslides and damages were incurred to buildings, roads, and water supplies. As a precaution, more than 3,000 citizens living below the landslides were moved to a refugee camp. The USGS and the OFDA with USAID are providing support and research

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Attribution: Natural Hazards
Image: Coastal Landslide Caused by the 2010 Haiti Earthquake

Coastal Landslide Caused by the 2010 Haiti Earthquake

Earthquake-triggered landslide on south coast of Haiti near village of Nan Diamant.

Image: Landslides in Limestone, Haiti

Landslides in Limestone, Haiti

This photo shows a landslide that deposited disaggregated limestone fragments in river valley.

Attribution: Natural Hazards