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6 November 2020

Hurricane Eta: dozens killed by landslides in Central America

Posted by Dave Petley

Hurricane Eta: dozens killed by landslides in Central America

In the last few days a major tropical storm, Hurricane Eta, has made landfall in Central America. In many ways this story has been lost in the maelstrom around the US election (and in the UK the imposition of a new lock down), but the impact has been severe.  So far it appears that the greatest losses have occurred in Guatemala, where at least 50 people are reported to have been killed in landslidesEarlier news reports suggest that at least 37 of these fatalities have occurred in three landslides.  The picture is quite confused, but the best report I have found so far is provided by CBS7:-

“On Thursday afternoon, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said a water-soaked mountainside in the central part of the country had slid down onto the town of San Cristobal Verapaz, burying homes and leaving at least 25 dead.

“Two other slides in Huehuetenango had killed at least 12 more, he said. The president initially said more than 50 people had died in slides, but the individual incidents he cited did not reach that total. Later, David de León, spokesman for the national disaster agency, said there were reports of 50 people missing in the Verapaz slide, but government rescue teams had not reached the site.”

News reports in Guatemala suggest that the losses at San Cristobal Verapaz may be much higher.  This image apparently shows the landslide:

Hurricane Eta landslide

The landslide at San Cristóbal Verapaz in Guatemala caused by Hurricane Eta. Image by Foto Prensa Libre: Courtesy of Mayor Ovidio Choc Pop.


These news reports indicate that up to 75 houses might have been buried and that the loss of life might be about 100 people.

Unfortunately, the losses from landslides extend further.  In Panama, five people, including two children, were killed in a landslide that buried two homes in Chiriqui province near to the border with Costa Rica.  In Costa Rica itself two people were killed in a landslide. In Nicaragua, two gold miners were killed when they were buried by a collapsed slope.  In Honduras, there are reports of five landslide fatalities, including a child who was killed when her house was buried in San Pedro Sula.

It is very possible that the losses will prove to be rather higher in due course.  I’m reminded of the terrible impact of Hurricane Mitch in 1998.  Fortunately, at the moment this event does not seem to be on a par – Mitch killed 11,000 people.  This included a terrible lahar from Casita volcano in Nicaragua, which killed about 2,500 people.  At the moment this event seems to be far less severe, but it is a reminder of the terrible vulnerability in Central America to these extreme rainfall events.


Quickslide 1: The rising impact of tropical cyclones in a warming world

Nature World News has a good article about the increasing impact of tropical cyclones as global heating continues to develop.  Spoiler alert – seven out of 10 of the strongest storms have occurred since 2006.


Quickslide 2: The rapidly growing cost of making coal tips safe in South Wales

According to the BBC, Chris Bryant MP and Labour colleagues have written to the UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak about the costs of mitigating coal tips in south Wales.  The letter reveals unpublished details from a review by the Welsh Government.  It indicates that the cost of making the tips safe might exceed £500 million.

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