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The Worst Mudslides in History

Updated June 13, 2018 2.8k views11 items

Natural disasters have the ability to completely dismantle entire communities in only a matter of hours, especially mudslides as they often come without warning. Mudslides, formally known as mudflows, are events where a large amount of debris saturated with water begins to rapidly flow downhill. The worst mudslides in history have killed countless people, as the force of the flow and the potential for suffocation are both extremely high in those scenarios.

The deadliest mudslides often occur in places in the world, such as mountainous locations or cities near volcanoes, that are at a higher risk. There are various types of mudflows, from volcanic lahars to the jökulhlaups that burst from icebergs and glaciers. Mudslide deaths can easily range in the hundreds, and mudslide history is full of terrible tragedies. This list covers some of the worst mudslides of all time. 

  • 2017 Sierra Leone Mudslide

    Date: August 14, 2017
    Location: Freetown, Sierra Leone
    Deaths: 1,141

    More than 1,000 people were killed in Sierra Leone after mudslides struck the rural community of Freetown. Roughly 20,000 people were forced to flee the region as unstable soil still threatened the community. Intense rainfall was the culprit behind this mudflow, as the slopes of Mount Sugar Loaf became inundated with mud and water. Volunteers worked tirelessly to rescue survivors and prepare burials for uncovered victims. 

  • Photo: Agência Brasil / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0 BR

    2011 Rio De Janeiro Mudslides

    Date: January 11, 2011
    Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    Deaths: 903

    Hundreds were killed across multiple townships in Brasil's Região Serrana, a mountainous region of Rio at risk for mudflows. Heavy rains exacerbated the dangerous conditions, causing the series of deadly mudslides. City health officials battled an outbreak of leptospirosis that sprung up as a result of the mudflows, with at least 51 confirmed cases. Hundreds of people were left homeless, and the government began a program to offer social benefits and welfare to those who lost their homes. 

  • Photo: Giorgione / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    1967 Caraguatatuba Mudslide

    Date: March 18, 1967
    Location: Caraguatatuba, Brazil
    Deaths: 511

    One of the deadliest natural disasters in Brazil's history occurred in 1967, when a massive mudslide struck the seaside town of Caraguatatuba. Hundreds were killed in the disaster. Heavy rains at the time also set off mudslides in the surrounding area, leaving even more people dead. 

  • 2009 Siaolin Mudslide

    Date: August 9, 2009 
    Location: Siolin Village, Taiwan 
    Deaths: 474

    After 48 hours of extreme rainfall, a dam meant to prevent landslides burst near Siaolin Village in Taiwan. The effects were devastating. Over 900 people were buried under mud and debris and roads were entirely wiped out. Rescuers had to air lift victims out of the area via helicopter. In addition to the loss of life, the village was almost completely dismantled, with multiple homes and hotels completely destroyed.