International media have been focusing attention in recent weeks on massive floods in Pakistan and China. While not on the same scale as the tragedy unfolding in Pakistan, Mexico is dealing with the aftermath of its own very serious flooding in the southern part of the country. Weeks of torrential downpours, with rainfall in many areas reaching more than double the yearly average, have led to widespread inundations.
The worst flooding has been in the lowland Gulf Coast states of Veracruz and Tabasco, where the channels of major rivers have been unable to cope with the volumes of water fed into them by their network of tributaries. These tributaries begin in the mountainous areas upstream, which received the heaviest rainfalls, in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, which are also experiencing serious flooding. According to the Associated Press and Mexico City daily Milenio, over 300,000 people are directly affected, and tens of thousands have been forced from their homes.
The Papaloapan River has burst its banks and caused record flooding in parts of Oaxaca and Veracruz. Some of the worst flooding has been in Tlacotalpan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in a low marshy area about ten kilometers from the Gulf of Mexico, between Veracruz City and Coatzacoalcos. President Felipe Calderon personally assessed the damage and expressed solidarity with the flood victims by wading a kilometer through the flooded streets of Tlacotalpan. He ordered six hundred Mexican sailors into the flooded areas to help local residents.
The low-lying state of Tabasco has been hit the hardest. The homes of over 120,000 people are flooded and over 180,000 hectares belonging to 20,000 people have been lost. This region has repeatedly suffered serious flooding in recent years; a controversial plan for flood protection in this area has never been completed.
Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco, has been flooded once again. It suffered catastrophic floods in November 2007 and November 2009. The recent Villahermosa flooding is exacerbated by the controlled releases of water from the massive Malpaso and La Angostura dams in the upper reaches of the Rio Grijalva basin. The dams are essentially filled to capacity; with more rains expected in the next two months, water must be released to provide spare capacity to avoid even greater flooding in the wettest fall months. The same situation is occurring with the dams in the Papaloapan basin.
- Photo gallery of flooding in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz
Rivers, floods and water-related issues are discussed in chapters 6 and 7 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy.