12 December 2018

Fenshui, China: a fatal landslide, caused by humans?

Posted by Dave Petley

Fenshui, China: a fatal landslide, caused by humans?

On Sunday a rock slope failure affected an area of Fenshui township in Xuyong County, Sichuan Province in China, killing five people and injuring a further seven.  The landslide, which happened in a period of heavy rainfall, destroyed a number of residential properties.

Xinhua has quite a number of images of the aftermath, most of them focusing on the heroic actions of the government rescue teams, which is quite normal in the Chinese state media.   Asia One has a much more interesting image of the landslide site:-

The fatal landslide at Fenshui in Xuyong, China on Sunday 9th December 2018. Image via China Daily / Asia News Network and Asia One.


The landslide appears to have occurred in quite intensely weathered rock.  The main scar originated high on the slope, which appears to the seat of the failure.  The landslide has entrained some slope materials en route, though it seems to me that the volume of debris at the slope toe is quite modest.  And note also that the properties appear to have collapsed, perhaps as a result of impacts, rather than being buried. This is probably the reason why the proportion of victims of the landslide that survived was quite high for a landslide event.

Most interesting to me is that the slope appears to be traversed by a road about a third of the way from the top.  The construction on the right side of the image suggests that this is quite new.  The toe of the failure of the slope appears to me to coincide with the level of the road.  I wonder if this slope was cut prior to the landslide and, if so, whether this was a factor in the events?  Poor road construction techniques often lead to landslides.