17 July 2012

Breaking news – a fatal landslide at Beaminster in Dorset, UK

Posted by Dave Petley

Fatal landslides are quite rare in the UK, so news today that a landslide has killed two people in the south of the country is quite surprising.  An even greater surprise is that the landslide occurred on 7th July in a populated area, and that the victims were reported missing shortly thereafter, but the bodies were only discovered last night.  The landslide was triggered by the exceptionally heavy rainfall that crossed the southern part of the UK on 7th July.  On that day two landslides occurred, one at each end of a tunnel in the town of Beaminster.  The road was blocked and the road closed.  Unfortunately, it appears that the car containing the two victims was buried beneath the debris, killing the driver and passenger.  Unfortunately, this trapped vehicle was not identified at that time.

This image, from the New Civil Engineer, appears to show the debris:

Clearly many questions will be asked about why the victims were not found for so long.  However, it is important to bear in mind that survival times for victims buried in landslides is usually very short as the debris has such high density; that the site itself would have been (and indeed may still be) dangerous to those sent to the site, such that it may well have been the case that responding officers feared for their safety; that the car might have been totally covered in a debris pile that did not look large enough to contain a vehicle; and that there were many other incidents occurring at the time in this area.  Thus, it would be unwise to be critical of the response until more information is available at least.