22 October 2008

Landslide crisis in Honduras

Posted by Dave Petley

Although it has not received any substantial coverage in the west, it appears that there is a serious landslide crisis developing in Honduras. Over the last few days Honduras has experienced intense rainfall as a consequence of a stalled tropical depression. A state of emergency has been declared.

The most serious problem appears to lie in Corquin in Copan, in the very west of Honduras. Here, both La Prensa and La Tribhuna are reporting that massive landslides have occurred. A (very rough) translation of the key parts of the La Prensa article is as follows:

“A landslide caused by rains in two hills formed a gigantic dam on a river that buried two villages, whose inhabitants had been evacuated, in a municipality in the department of Copan, 550 km northwest of the Honduran capital, reported a local official on Tuesday.

“El Suptal de Coquín and El Suptal de Belén are two communities that were nearby, one kilometer away from one to another, and they were buried, including two schools and all the houses disappeared”. The mayor said that five other communities are at risk. Paz said that the land that slipped from two hills formed a dam on the river Coyol, which was formed a gigantic pool that has flooded the two communities. The earth dam is turning into mud that can slide easily endanger other five communities, which were evacuated. “The communities that are at risk are Mesitas, Pacaya, Ichotal, Higueral y El Coyol, all we have evacuated 100%, there are not a person, or anything, thank God,” he said. He explained that “there is no access for machinery, or anything, the only way will be to blow it up but the thing is that as the hills are too sensitive and could cause more landslides.” In the monitoring they did yesterday, the dam measured about 500 meters and the river Coyol is blocked. Every five minutes landslides occur that bring down trees and rocks, which increases the height of the blockage.

La Estrella is reporting that the landslide dam is 150 m high Needless to say a blockage like this is exceptionally concerning as it is inevitable that a breach will lead to a serious flood unless the landslide is mitigated. Urgent action may be needed to prevent a serious problem.