14 October 2019
Landslide fatalities: an analysis of causes of loss of life
My overriding aim in running this blog is to try to reduce loss of life caused by landslides. One key element on achieving that aim is to know how and why landslides lead to loss of life. It has long been a frustration for me that there is so little analysis of data on this topic, even though autopsy data must exist for thousands of people who have been unfortunate to be caught up in landslides. There is a real need for someone to collate this data and run a detailed analysis.
It is therefore pleasing to see a paper published (Sheeju et al. 2019), in a comparatively obscure but open access journal, that seeks to analyse data on the causes of loss of life from a large landslide. Somewhat frustratingly, the paper gives little information about the landslide itself, but it appears to have occurred in the Machad Hills of Kerala in India on 16th August 2018. This means I think that it was the large landslide at Kuranchery, which is shown in a Youtube video, from which this still is taken:-
It appears that this was a large, rapid landslide that buried people in their homes. According to Sheeju et al. (2019) the victims ranged in age from three to 65 years old. Of the 19 victims, 18 suffered blunt force injuries – i.e they were physically harmed by impacts, and 11 suffered from asyphyxia. Of the blunt force injuries, 13 suffered from head injuries, whilst 11 had injuries to their chests.
The study concludes that in the majority of cases the blunt force injury was the main cause of loss of life, although asphyxia may have been a secondary factor for 10 people. Only one victim suffered simply from asphyxia, which is often assumed to be the cause of death in a landslide.
The nature of the injuries suffered by an individual victim will depend on the type of landslide, amongst other things. In this case, the failure was a high energy flow open hillslope event, meaning that the physical impacts on people and buildings would have been severe. The study suggests that protecting people from such events is likely to be extremely difficult – the aim must be either to prevent the landslide or to ensure that people are not located in its path.