Rainfall-Induced Landslides in Puerto Rico

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In September 2017 Hurricane María triggered more than 70,000 landslides across Puerto Rico that caused loss of life and widespread damage to transportation, communication, and power-supply infrastructure, and to other public and private property.


Reduction of Hazards from Intense Rainfall-Induced Landslides in Puerto Rico

damaged home at bottom of short steep muddy cliff

Landslide that filled a home and buried a road in Utuado, Puerto Rico (Credit: Jonathan Godt, USGS. Public domain.)

To help to reduce the hazards from future landslide events, the USGS Landslide Hazards Project (LHP) and their partners are performing a 3.5-year-long study that will improve understanding of landslides in Puerto Rico and methods for spatially and temporally forecasting landslide occurrence.  More specifically, the LHP is leveraging advances in remote sensing (primarily lidar, InSAR, and optical imagery), laboratory testing, and field observation, monitoring, testing, and data collection to map, characterize, and analyze landslides throughout Puerto Rico. These studies will improve understanding of where and when landslides are most likely, which is of critical importance, but also the characteristics of landslides as they form and move downslope; most landslides in Puerto Rico display long travel distances making them hazardous far from their initiation sites. Led by partners at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez, the USGS has published an inventory of landslides triggered by Hurricane Maria and an island-wide map depicting susceptibility to intense rainfall-induced landslides that was developed using the inventory and analyses of multiple factors contributing to landslide occurrence. The LHP also continues development of state-of-the-science tools for modeling and forecasting where landslides are likely to occur, and where they are likely to travel after occurrence. Models are being developed and tested using input obtained from our remote sensing, field, and laboratory studies. Following validation, models will be applied to create landslide susceptibility maps for areas having highest priority for landslide hazard reduction.

large boulders and mud on road in Puerto Rico

Rockslide that blocked a road into the El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico (Credit: Corina Cerovski-Darriau, USGS. Public domain.)

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