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Landslide Disaster and Recovery

Any area where soil has become destabilized due to weather, deforestation or construction may experience a landslide. Given its mountainous terrain, Washington State is home to the most devastating landslide in recorded history: the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) noted the landslide after the eruption averaged 150 feet deep and traveled between 70 and 150 miles per hour as it carried water, mud, ashes and debris more than 14 miles down the North Fork Toutle River.

Fires in recent years have contributed to conditions in our state that are ripe for landslides. Healthy root systems that help provide structure to soil have been decimated as forest fires have ravaged our trees. Experts anticipate that Washington State may experience devastating landslides due to forest fires over the next decade.

What do you need to know about landslides, and how can you protect yourself, your loved ones and your property? Below are answers to frequently asked questions about landslides and the law.

What causes landslides?

Landslides generally have more than one cause, but they happen whenever a slope is no longer strong enough to resist the effects of gravity due to:

  • Changes in rainfall (either too much or too little)
  • Movement of snowmelt
  • Erosion
  • Earthquakes
  • Volcanic activity
  • Human activity (e.g., deforestation, construction, etc.)

What is the difference between a landslide and a mudslide?

The U.S. Geological Survey defines a landslide as “the movement of a mass of rock, debris or earth down a slope” due to gravity. A mudslide is a fast-moving type of landslide made up of water, soil and debris. Both types can result in injury, death and significant damage to property.

What is the difference between a landslide and a sinkhole?

Landslides occur above ground. Sinkholes happen when soil underneath a structure, such as a road, building or retaining wall, is washed away, creating an empty space and removing any support for structures above. The ground eventually gives way, and a hole opens where the soil is missing.

How do I reduce the risk of a landslide on my property?

Landslides can happen anywhere, anytime. To keep you and your loved ones safe, FEMA recommends you:

  • Understand the risks in your area.
  • Learn about the signs of a landslide on your property, which include changes in landscape (e.g., storm water runoff changes, leaning trees or fencing); windows and doors that begin to jam or stick; new cracks in foundations, plaster or brick; slowly developing cracks in streets or driveways; and water breaking through the surface in new areas.
  • Know your area’s evacuation plans and gather supplies.
  • Do not build on steep slopes or property close to cliffs or drainage ways.
  • Plant ground cover and build walls to direct flows around your property.
  • Review your insurance coverage to ensure it is adequate.

Learn more about landslides and safety best practices.

What human factors contribute to landslides?

Human factors contributing to landslides include:

  • Deforestation and destruction of vegetation
  • Changes to groundwater flow patterns
  • Improper construction of roads, bridges and buildings

Climate change is also making weather more extreme, resulting in heavy rainfall in some areas. This heavy rainfall saturates the soil, resulting in mud. When this occurs in areas that have already been destabilized, the risk for landslides increases.

How can PCVA help if you are injured in a landslide?

PCVA’s experienced attorneys can help you understand your options for pursuing compensation and damages. If you would like to speak with a PCVA lawyer, complete our online form, or call us at (253) 777-0799​ or (206) 462-4334.

How much does PCVA charge?

Our work is done on a contingency basis. This means that you do not pay us on an hourly basis, and we advance the costs of litigation. If we help you resolve your case, we receive a percentage of the amount you receive, and you reimburse us for the costs we advanced on your behalf.