9 November 2020
San Cristobal Verapaz: the deadly landslide in Guatemala triggered by Hurricane Eta
Over the weekend more information has emerged about the large, deadly landslide that struck San Cristobal Verapaz in Guatemala last week. The landslide, in an area that is remote and steep, destroyed a number of houses in the village of Queja. Unfortunately the area continues to be affected by heavy rainfall, and further landslides are occurring, disrupting the rescue and putting further lives at risk.
In terms of understanding this landslide, the two best images that I have found to date are below. The first, published on CP24, provides a good oversight of the source area of the landslide:-
On first inspection this appears to be a complex landslide, possibly occurring in two parts (note the stand of trees in the centre left of the landslide scar). In both elements there is possible a degree of rotational failure, but the upper portion appears to have transitioned into a slide or flow that has passed to the left of the trees (I’m using left in this case as shown in the image).
The second image is the one below, published by France 24:-
This is the lower portion of the landslide; I suspect from other images that this has derived from the upper failure shown in the first image. Here the landslide appears to be a rockslide or possibly even a flow. Note the amount of standing water on the surface, but also the large boulders. The damage to the structures is clear; any building in the direct path would have been destroyed.
The number of people killed at San Cristobal Verapaz is not yet clear – to date only three victims have been recovered. However, on Friday President Alejandro Giammattei indicated up to 150 people might have been buried in the landslide. One woman has reportedly lost 22 family members in the disaster:-
“All her family is gone, she’s the only survivor. Her dad, mom, siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, they’re all gone. Twenty-two family members and it’s just her alive”. It is hard to imagine this level of loss.
A search for the location of Queja in San Cristobal Verapaz yields a location of: 15.391, -90.632 on the Geonames database. At present the satellite imagery is too cloudy to verify this as the correct site.