Landslide Safety

Research is ongoing to develop landslide early warning systems, but in Trinidad and Tobago, no such system currently exists. Hence, it is pertinent to be aware of landslide warning signs and what to do before, during and after a landslide. These tips are adapted from the USGS and the ODPM.

Landslide Warning Signs

  • Springs, seeps, or saturated ground in areas that have not typically been wet before.
  • New cracks or unusual bulges in the ground, street pavements or sidewalks.
  • Soil moving away from foundations.
  • Ancillary structures such as decks and patios tilting and/or moving relative to the main house.
  • Tilting or cracking of concrete floors and foundations.
  • Broken water lines and other underground utilities.
  • Leaning telephone poles, trees, retaining walls or fences.
  • Offset fence lines.
  • Sunken or down-dropped road beds.
  • Sticking doors and windows, and visible open spaces indicating jambs and frames out of plumb.
  • A faint rumbling sound that increases in volume is noticeable as the landslide nears.
  • Unusual sounds, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together, might indicate moving debris.

Landslide Prone Areas

The ODPM has produced a map outlining areas of varying risk for landslides, mainly showing what is expected – populations near hilly areas have a high to very high risk of landslides occurring. Click for full resolution image from the ODPM

Generally, areas that are considered prone to landslides are:

  • On existing old landslides.
  • On or at the base of slopes.
  • In or at the base of minor drainage hollows.
  • At the base or top of an old fill slope.
  • At the base or top of a steep cut slope.
  • Developed hillsides where leach field septic systems are used.

Landslide Safe Areas

  • On hard, non-jointed bedrock that has not moved in the past.
  • On relatively flat-lying areas away from sudden changes in slope angle.
  • At the top or along the nose of ridges, set back from the tops of slopes.

Before a Landslide

  • Do not build near steep slopes, close to mountain edges, near drainage ways, or natural erosion valleys.
  • Get a ground assessment of your property. When this is done you would know the kind of soil type that your property is built on and would be able to determine how susceptible it would be to ground movements and if landslides are a possibility.
  • Contact local officials. Landslides occur where they have before, and in identifiable hazard locations. Ask for information on landslides in your area, specific information on areas vulnerable to landslides, and request a professional referral for a very detailed site analysis of your property, and corrective measures you can take, if necessary.
  • Watch the patterns of water drainage near your home, and note the places where runoff water converges, increasing flow in channels. These are areas to avoid during a storm.
  • Learn about the emergency-response and evacuation plans for your area. Develop your own emergency plan for your family or business. If you live in a high-risk area an evacuation plan should be prepared.
  • Minimize home hazards:
    • Have flexible pipe fittings installed to avoid gas or water leaks, as flexible fittings are more resistant to breakage (only the gas company or professionals should install gas fittings).
    • Plant ground cover on slopes and build retaining walls.
    • In mudflow areas, build channels or deflection walls to direct the flow around buildings. Remember: If you build walls to divert debris flow and the flow lands on a neighbor’s property, you may be liable for damages.
  • Plant trees and other types of vegetation that would help to stabilize soil on the slopes of your property.
  • Look for changes to your surroundings that may signal the likelihood of landslide activity, such as leaning fences or walls.
  • When driving along routes on hilly areas, such as the roads to Maracas, drive with your windows down and without music. This should be done so that you would hear any unusual sounds such as the knocking together of rocks or the cracking of trees, which are warning signs of the possibility of a landslide occurring.
  • Also, while driving along those areas, if you see an abnormal amount of leaves from trees falling, it could be the signal that a landslide is about to occur.

During A Landslide

  • Stay alert and awake. Many debris-flow fatalities occur when people are sleeping. Listen to a portable, battery-powered radio or television for warnings of intense rainfall. Be aware that intense, short bursts of rain may be particularly dangerous, especially after longer periods of heavy rainfall and damp weather.
  • If you are in areas susceptible to landslides and debris flows, consider leaving if it is safe to do so. Remember that driving during an intense storm can be hazardous. If you remain at home, move to a second story if possible. Staying out of the path of a landslide or debris flow saves lives.
  • Listen for any unusual sounds that might indicate moving debris, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together. A trickle of flowing or falling mud or debris may precede larger landslides. Moving debris can flow quickly and sometimes without warning.
  • If you are near a stream or channel, be alert for any sudden increase or decrease in water flow and for a change from clear to muddy water. Such changes may indicate landslide activity upstream, so be prepared to move quickly. Don’t delay! Save yourself, not your belongings.
  • Be especially alert when driving. Bridges may be washed out, and culverts overtopped. Do not cross flooding streams!! Turn Around, Don’t Drown! Embankments along roadsides are particularly susceptible to landslides. Watch the road for collapsed pavement, mud, fallen rocks, and other indications of possible debris flows.
  • Be aware that strong shaking from earthquakes can induce or intensify the effects of landslides.

If You Suspect Imminent Landslide Danger

  • Contact your local fire, police, or corporation. Local officials are the best persons able to assess potential danger.
  • Inform affected neighbors. Your neighbors may not be aware of potential hazards. Advising them of a potential threat may help save lives. Help neighbors who may need assistance to evacuate.
  • Evacuate. Getting out of the path of a landslide or debris flow is your best protection.
  • Curl into a tight ball and protect your head if escape is not possible.

After a Landslide

  • Stay away from the slide area. There may be danger of additional slides.
  • Listen to local radio or television stations for the latest emergency information.
  • Watch for flooding, which may occur after a landslide or debris flow. Floods sometimes follow landslides and debris flows because they may both be started by the same event.
  • Check for injured and trapped persons near the slide, without entering the direct slide area. Direct rescuers to their locations.
  • Help a neighbor who may require special assistance – infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities. Elderly people and people with disabilities may require additional assistance. People who care for them or who have large families may need additional assistance in emergency situations.
  • Look for and report broken utility lines and damaged roadways and railways to appropriate authorities. Reporting potential hazards will get the utilities turned off as quickly as possible, preventing further hazard and injury. Report any damage that may have occurred to the relevant utility company such as WASA and T&TEC.
  • Check the building foundation and surrounding land for damage. Damage to foundations, or surrounding land may help you assess the safety of the area.
  • Replant damaged ground as soon as possible since erosion caused by loss of ground cover can lead to flash flooding and additional landslides in the near future.
  • Seek advice from a geotechnical expert for evaluating landslide hazards or designing corrective techniques to reduce landslide risk. A professional will be able to advise you of the best ways to prevent or reduce landslide risk, without creating further hazard.
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