Anyone who has been skiing on a large mountain knows about the dangers of avalanches. Every year about one million avalanches happen around the globe. Of these million, about 100,000 occur in the United States. Avalanches do not just happen in the cold months of the year but can happen during any season. Avalanches affect people by causing death or injury, property damage and utility, and communication failure.
An avalanche is a large mass of ice and snow which comes loose from a side of a mountain. The starting point is when the snow moves down the mountain picking up more snow with increasing speed and power. The second part to the avalanche is called the track where the slope is less steep and the snow will maintain its speed and power. The runout zone is the last stage in which the avalanche hits level ground and it stops.
Death or Injury
The biggest way in which avalanches affect people is by causing death or injury. The force from an avalanche can easily break and crush bones causing serious injury. Asphyxiation is the most common cause of death, followed by death from injury and lastly by hypothermia. People buried in the avalanche have more than a 90 percent survival rate if found within 15 minutes. The rate drops to around 30 percent if found after 35 minutes.
Property and Transportation
Avalanches can completely destroy houses, cabins and shacks on its pathway. This force can also cause major damage to ski resorts near or on the mountain, as well as ski lift towers. Avalanches also can cause roads and railroad lines to close. The large amount of snow can cover entire mountain passes and travel routes. Car and trains that may be traveling on these routes can be completely wiped out or buried.
Utilities and Communication
Another way that these disasters affect humans is by damaging utilities and communication. The power from these snow waves can completely destroy pipelines carrying gas or oil, thus causing leaks and spillage. Broken power lines can cause a disruption in electricity and cause thousands of people to go without power. Communication fields, such as telephone and cable lines, could go silent causing a panic and a delay in response time and rescue.
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- Google Books: "Medicine for Mountaineering & Other Wilderness Activities"; James A. Wilkerson, Ernest E. Moore and Ken Zafren; 2009