5 January 2009

Guatemala landslide

Posted by Dave Petley

The first major landslide event of 2008 occurred on Sunday in Alta Verapaz in northern Guatemala. At the moment reports are somewhat fragmented, but the Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre has published the following (not great quality) image. I have tried to enhance it as much as I can:

Clearly this is a major failure – the news report suggests a mass of10,000 tonnes. To date that there are 29 known fatalities plus 15 people reported injured. It appears that there are concerns that the death toll may be much higher as there were 140 people on the road at the time of the failure.

In fact the Prensa Libre report is impressive in terms of the level of geological detail that they provide – far better than is usually the case. A number of key issues emerge:

  1. This same stretch of road suffered a landslide on 14th December that killed two people;
  2. It was known that another failure was likely, such that the road had been closed. The 140 potential victims appear to have disobeyed instructions when they walked across the affected section;
  3. The landslide has occurred in an area that is traversed by a known fault, which has weakened the ground and caused water seepage;
  4. Further failures are feared.

For info the failure appears to have occurred somewhere on the section of road shown below, although the Google Earth image is not good enough to pinpoint its likely location properly (click on the image for a better view):

I will post more as details become available.