19 September 2013

First reports of a major landslide in Mexico

Posted by Dave Petley

Over the last few days Mexico has been affected by two tropical storms, Ingrid and Manuel, which have brought very heavy rainfall.  Current estimates are that 80 people have been killed.  This morning news reports are starting to emerge of a major landslide on Monday at the village of La Pintada.  The Presedient, Enrique Pena Nieto, has suggested that 58 people are missing in the village, which has a population of about 400 people.  However, there is clearly considerable uncertainty about the precise number of casualties.  A Global Post news report suggests that 20 houses were buried and that 15 bodies have been recovered to date.  A total 14 people sustained injuries.

Unfortunately, Manel has re-intensified to Hurricane strength in the last few hours and is expected to make landfall once again.

The Global Post also has an account of the landslide.  This suggests that local residents had heard sounds of the slope straining prior to the collapse.  The final failure is described thus:

“More than half of La Pintada was demolished, few homes were left,” Maria del Carmen Catalan, a 27-year-old mother of three, said at a convention center that serves as a refuge for storm victims.

Many people were eating in their homes on the second day of independence day celebrations when the massive chunk of land slipped at around 4:00 pm.

“We were eating when it thundered, and when the mountain collapsed the homes were swept away and the thundering noise became louder,” said Erika Guadalupe Garcia, a 25-year-old mother of three.

Ana Clara Catalan, 17, was preparing corn tortillas when she heard a “loud noise.”

“We ran out. It was an ugly noise, worse than a bomb,” she said. “The school, the kindergarten and the church were lost. Everything was taken.”

The mix of earth and rubble came crashing into the river. Those who ran survived. Later, foul smells began to spread across the desolate village, apparently the stench of rotting bodies.

The location of this landslide is not entirely clear, but at the moment this Google Earth image seems to show the most likely position.  Certainly the village is the right size and there are the sorts of slopes around the settlement that can yield a major landslide:

13_09 La Pintada..


Google Earth also has this Panoramio image of the village, taken by user gatopelu008:

13_09 La Pintada 2


If this is the village then the rescue operations will be difficult given the current conditions.  The village is quite isolated and the buildings are not likely to have been able to withstand a major landslide.  However, at the moment details remain sketchy and there are no obvious images of the landslide, but more information is likely to emerge during the day.