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Landslides and Floods in Mexico

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Landslides and Floods in Mexico from Tropical Storm Matthew

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico- The rains fell for four days throughout southern Mexico. It did not fall in torrents — no cats or dogs fell from the sky here — but the rains did fall in a steady drizzle, slow, consistent, throughout four days and nights. These rains came at the courtesy of hurricane Matthew, downgraded to a tropical storm after making landfall on the Caribbean coast of Central America. But this constant drizzle, this constant precipitation onslaught was too much for many of the delicate hillsides of this region to hold, and some of them broke free in landslides throughout Chiapas and Oaxaca. While these landslides devastated the mountainous southwestern region of Mexico, rampant flooding took care of the southeast.

This year, Mexico has received more rain than in its entire recorded history, which has been maximized by Hurricane Karl and Tropical Storm Matthew -Mexico rains.

overflowing-drainage-mexico

Lots of rain in Southern Mexico from tropical storm

The news reports say that Chiapas state received the most rain from tropical storm Matthew, which drifted apart and became separate storm systems throughout southern Mexico. Travelers were halted in their tracks as the main roads going south to Guatemala were covered in the dirt, mud, and rubble from landslides. 257 mm of rain fell upon Chiapas, and many of the people living in lower elevations or along the course of rivers were evacuated to higher ground. A friend of mine who works at a bagel shop in San Cristobal de las Casas — a city that is more or less in a safe location at a high elevation — told me that he had just made 100 ham and cheese sandwiches for the residents of San Remon, who were evacuated to a gymnasium in the city. This was three days ago, he says that the evacuees could still be there.

Tlahuitoltepec, this village received some of the worse destruction

Landslides destroyed parts of the above village yesterday morning, 500 to 1,000 people were buried beneath the mud.

Although Chiapas state received the most rainfall, saw landslides, and pieces of its transportation infrastructure taken out, in terms of the human toll Oaxaca state seemed to fair vastly worse. Entire indigenous villages slipped off of mountains, roads that were little more than mule trails no longer exist, and rescue teams are still trying to figure out how to gain access to places that were, quite literally, wiped off the map.

Oaxaca state Gov. Ulises Ruiz told the Televisa television network that the early morning landslide in the town Santa Maria de Tlahuitoltepec buried 100 to 300 houses and speculated that 500 to 1,000 people could be buried. -Hundreds Feared Dead in Landslide

Vargas said the slide dragged houses packed with sleeping families some 1,300 feet downhill, along with cars, livestock and light poles.

“We were all sleeping and all I heard was a loud noise and when I left the house I saw that the hill had fallen,” Vargas said. “We were left without electricity, without telephone and we couldn’t help them. There was no way to move the mud.” –People missing after mudslide

The word in San Cristobal is that hundreds of people are still buried in various landslides throughout Oaxaca,  as well as throughout many other places in the south of Mexico. The general consensus yesterday amongst travelers was to stay in our safe haven until the rains have stopped and the mud has been cleared. But the landslides are still falling across the country, coupled with flooding.

Residents from Acalana, some 90 miles (150km) northeast of Mexico city told Associated Press that the small farming village was swamped in a mudslide last Thursday.

The collapsed mountainside which buried the remote village of Acalana. If the reports are confirmed, it could be the worst single disaster in a week of floods across southeastern Mexico – the most severe to hit the country for 40 years.

Nearly 400 people have died, many in mudslides. The threat of disease is growing, and more bad weather is due. –BBC News Mexican Mudslide and Floods from Tropical Storm

The path of Tropical Storm Matthew through Mexico

How do mudslides happen?

Wet clay can become unstable and slip at only a 1 or 2 degree incline, so heavy rains can easily saturate and weigh down hillsides to the point that they break apart and slide down slope. Mudslides are more prone to happen on slopes that have been logged, graded, or developed. Unfortunately, villages built on hillsides make the earth beneath them vastly more unstable and more prone to landslides. In the south of Mexico, entire villages slid down hillsides and were buried as the rains of the past four days saturated the earth, allowing gravity to overthrow the balance that once kept houses, roads, and agricultural fields secure to their slopes.

Map showing global landslide risks

Diagram of a mudslide

Diagram of a landslide

Tropical Storm Matthew conclusion

I look up into the sky above my safe haven in San Cristobal de las Casas, and the sky is still chock full of thick clouds, it looks as though it may rain again. The tropical storm is now separate rain storms, but the end of the rains, the landslides, the floods may not be over for the south of Mexico. And another hurricane is on the horizon.

Related articles: Tropical Storm in Mexico

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Filed under: Mexico, Natural Disasters, North America, Weather

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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