Preparing for a Mudslide

Mudslides are a serious natural disaster. Southern California has been hit hard this past weekend. Homes have been destroyed and at least 15 people are dead. The death toll is expected to rise. At least 300 people are trapped in Romero Canyon of Montecito. Rescue crews are working tirelessly to get to those stranded in the rivers of mud. Many of the roads and highways are completely cover and rescue crews can't get through. Helicopters are leading the rescue efforts in several areas.

Shortly before the storm hit Santa Barabra issued a mandatory evacuation order for Santa Barabra, Carpinteria, Montecito, and Goleta. Many of the resistents did not comply with the evacuation order. Sheriff deputies went door to door to evacuate 7,000 individuals. Only 10 to 15 percent of those in the evacuation zone left when told to do so. However, many of the destroyed homes were outside of the evacuation zone.

The area was especially hard hit do the lack of vegetation to hold the soil together. Much of the area has been burned by the Thomas Fire. Combine with the heavy rainfall of 1.5 inches per hour and steep hilly terrain some areas are under 2 to 3 feet of mud. Residents said the mud came in an instant, like a damn breaking. Cars were pushed sideways down the street some appear to have been cut in half. Power lines are down and water mains have broken. The mud has ripped up trees and carried them into home and streets.

How to Prepare 

  • Have an emergency kit with food, water, and first aid supplies ready.
  • Make a family communication plan and have a meeting place if you get separated.
  • Know the risks to your home based on its location. Is it on a cliff face? Is it at the bottom of a steep slope? Is it near natural drainage areas or erosion valleys?
  • Create channels and retaining walls on your property for mud and debris to flow around your home. Note you could be putting your neighbors at risk and might be liable for damages.
  • Check with your home insurance company to see what is covered in the event of a mudslide.
  • Plant ground cover around your property to help hold the soil together.
  • Be aware if your area is at an increased risk of a mudslide due to heavy rains or fires.

Watch for Warning Signs 

  • Small slides or leaning trees. The ground could be about to give way.
  • Door and window sticking for the first time
  • New cracks in brick, plaster, or foundations
  • Broken underground utility lines
  • Usual sounds like cracking trees, or large rocks knocking together
  • Bulging at the base of a slope
  • Collapsing pavement or sidewalks pulling away from the ground
  • If you are told to evacuate just do it. It could save your life!

What to do During a Landslide 

  • Stay awake. Many deaths happen when people are sleeping. The California mudslide happened at night.
  • Have a battery-powered or hand-crank radio to listen for reports of heavy rainfall.
  • Listen for odd sounds that could indicate moving debris.
  • Get out of the path of the mudslide as quickly as possible. If mud is coming towards you go in the opposite direction. Look both ways before crossing a street or bridge it can quickly become a river of mud.
  • Stay away from rivers or low valleys. The mud will flow down towards the valley.
  • If you are near a stream watch for changes in the water's flow or color. Muddy water could be a sign of trouble upstream. Move away from the area quickly.
  • Curl into a tight ball and protect your head if escape is not possible.


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