Bernandino Hernandez/AP Photo
A man works to break apart a boulder with a jackhammer as people make their way on foot, near a road, that was cut off after heavy rains brought on by Tropical Storm Manuel triggered a landslide, on the outskirts of Acapulco, Mexico, Septemeber 16. Tropical Storm Ingrid and remnants of Tropical Storm Manuel drenched Mexico’s Gulf and Pacific coasts, flooding towns and cities in a national emergency that federal authorities say has caused at least 34 deaths.

Deadly Mexican Storms Leave Indigenous Villages in Trouble

Rick Kearns


The intensity of the lethal storms that have pounded Mexico recently are connected to climate change, according to scientists, and among the most devastated areas are indigenous communities that are calling for help.

Starting on September 13, the combined forces of storms Ingrid and Manuel have left 124 people dead, 59,000 people evacuated from their areas, and by September 23 at least 39,000 people residing in shelters; with more than 1 million people losing electricity and other services throughout Mexico.

When asked about the effects of climate change on Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel, Gerald Meehl, a Senior Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) said that, “the warmer climate is due in large part to human activity from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas,” and in general has had a real effect on storms.

“…every weather event now occurs in a changed climate,” Meehl wrote in a message from Stockholm, Sweden where he was attending the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPRCC). Meehl specializes in climate change research at the NCAR in Boulder, Colorado.

“It's warmer on average, and warmer air holds more moisture,” Meehl stated. “That means there is a greater moisture source for precipitation in storms. We have already measured a trend for increased precipitation intensity (the amount of rainfall that comes out of a given storm has been increasing).”

Alex Huertas, a spokesperson for the Union of Concerned Scientists, also noted how climate change has affected hurricanes.

“For hurricanes, there are a few things going on,” he explained. “First, we know that sea levels are rising, as glaciers warm and melt; and as the ocean heats and expands. That means all coastal storms can pack a bigger punch when they make landfall, including hurricanes. We also know that a warmer atmosphere carries more moisture, so precipitation is becoming concentrated in heavier events. We also know that warmer ocean water can make hurricanes more intense. It’s very likely that this has occurred in the North Atlantic basin over the past several decades,” Huertas stated.

The heavier rains were responsible for flooding of rivers and streams in the Mexican storms, along with powerful mudslides like the ones that destroyed parts of the resort town of Acapulco and the coffee growing village of La Pintada, located northwest of Acapulco in the state of Guerrero, where houses were filled with dirt and vehicles were upended after a nearby hillside collapsed.

Press reports noted that the landslide barreled through the middle of the village, destroying the church, the school and the kindergarten.

"We were eating when it thundered, and when the mountain collapsed the homes were swept away and the thundering noise became louder," resident Erika Guadalupe Garcia said.

In other parts of Guerrero the situation was critical according to Isabel M. Nemecio, an official with the Tlachinollan Mountain Center for Human Rights in the town Tlapa, Guerrero.

In a call for assistance issued to the government and news media on Saturday, September 21, Nemecio asserted that hundreds of thousands of indigenous families had been hurt by the storms, and, unlike the 10,000 tourists airlifted out of Acapulco, many were not rescued.

When trying to assess the number of casualties at that point, Nemecio said that the process was hampered by numerous factors.

“There is no precise report on the people who have died, disappeared or have been injured. We are counting as we gather information from the people who are showing up in the office,” she continued. “There is talk of disappeared people but that information is not precise due in part to the fact that their houses were destroyed by the river currents and it’s not known if the people were in the houses when that happened.”

The heavily indigenous state of Oaxaca, just east of Guerrero, was also severely affected by the hurricanes according to the U.S. based, Indigenous Front of Bi-national Organizations, known by its Spanish acronym of FIOB.

“We are calling on the federal government,” the September 21 press release stated, “that they guarantee efficient governmental support to the families affected by the hurricanes, without forgetting the remote areas where the indigenous people live.”