An exceptional rain triggered the failure of volcanic deposits and caused debris flows in the Sarno area, Southern Italy in May 1998, claiming 137 lives in the village of Episcopio. This paper presents a damage classification system to assess building damage by debris flows, which incorporates three damage scales of increasing complexity, with the first two representing structural and non-structural damage and the third the survivability. Preliminary results are presented, on the implementation of a four-point damage scale in a variety of settings within the study area, which identified a variety of levels of flow intensity providing a good opportunity for empirical modelling of building vulnerability in the study area. Finally, we tested a seismic classification system of structural typologies developed in Italy, which appears to be suitable to address the performance of buildings under the action of debris flows. At low levels of flow intensity other factors may become important.
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