21 July 2014

Maoxian County landslide: a dramatic video of a fatal rockslide

Posted by Dave Petley

Maoxian County landslide

On Thursday afternoon a rockslide occurred on a road in Maoxian County in Sichuan Province of China.  Unfortunately, Xinhua reports that the landslide struck nine vehicles, including seven cars, killing 11 people and seriously injuring a further 19.  Amazingly, the rockslide was captured on the dashboard camera of a vehicle close to the landslide.  Indeed, this vehicle was itself struck by a rock.  The footage is available on youtube. A word of warning – this does not make easy viewing:


There are several things that are worth noting here.  The first is the extraordinary speed with which the blocks, some of which are very large, come down the slope.  I think that one intuitively knows that this is the case, but the actual velocities are still shocking.  These lumps of rock are very heavy, so the destructive power is terrible.  The second is the absolute terror of those people caught in the rockslide.  The rates of movement of these rocks are so high that dodging them is exceptionally difficult, especially as the trajectories that they follow are unpredictable.  The man who went into the gutter adopted a good strategy for these large blocks, but of course if the whole slope had collapsed he would have been killed.  And the third of course is the person who was struck by the bouncing rock.  This screenshot captures both the victim (circled by the video maker) and the lump of rock (above the red car):

Maoxian County


This was a large boulder that was travelling very fast despite the bounce that it took above the road; I suspect that the victim must have been seriously injured, although he or she does appear to be walking at least when helped to safety.

Late in the video the man in the gutter also had a lucky escape when he started to move just as another boulder struck the top of the retaining wall just along from him, as this screenshot shows:

Maoxian County..

The video was taken in an area in which comparatively few boulders were falling.  The situation further along the road in the main rockfall zone must have been desperate.