Eaton L.S.

THE RAINFALL-TRIGGERED LANDSLIDE AND FLASH FLOOD DISASTER IN NORTHERN VENEZUELA, DECEMBER 1999

Larsen M.C., Wieczorek G.F., Eaton L.S., Torres-Sierra H. (2001) – The rainfall-triggered landslide and flash-flood disaster in northern Venezuela, December 1999. Proceedings of the Seventh Federal Interagency Sedimentation Conference, Reno, NV, IV, 9-16.

Abstract: 
A combination of climatologic, geologic, and demographic factors makes the Caribbean coast of Venezuela in the state of Vargas highly susceptible to episodic debris flows and flash floods. An extremely steep, tectonically active mountain front forms the boundary with a tropical sea. Easterly tradewinds can force moist air masses upslope and precipitate large rainfall volumes, creating conditions for high-magnitude debris flows and flash floods. The population of several hundred thousand people that reside at the base of the mountains is inevitably vulnerable to hydrologic disasters that seem to recur once or twice per century. The flash flood-debris flow process combination is highly destructive in populated areas. Without careful planning of human settlements, the impacts of these types of disasters are likely to increase in the future.

Venezuela debris-flow and flash-flood disaster of 1999 studied

Larsen, M.C., Wieczorek, G.F., Eaton, L.S., Morgan, B.A., Torres-Sierra, H., 2001, Venezuela debris-flow and flash-flood disaster of 1999 studied: EOS, Transactions: American Geophysical Union, v. 82, no. 47, p. 572-573.

Abstract: 
Alluvial fans in urban and rural areas are sites of episodic, rainfall-induced natural hazards [Garner, 1959; Campbell, 1975; Wieczorek et al., 2001;]. Debris flows, hyper-concentrated flows, and flash floods that occur episodically in these alluvial fan environments place many communities at high risk during intense and prolonged rainfall. Although scientists have become better able to define areas of high natural hazard, population expansion and development pressures in such areas have put more people at risk than ever before. Recognition of the magnitude and distribution of debris -flow and flash-flood hazards is therefore a critically important area of natural hazard research. In December 1999, rainstorms induced thousands of landslides in such an area along the Cordillera de la Costa, Vargas, located north of Caracas, Venezuela; an area of dense human settlement located at the base of steep mountains. Flash floods and debris flows caused severe property destruction on alluvial fans at the mouths of the coastal mountain drainage network. Rainfall accumulation on December 2 and 3 totaled 293 mm and was followed by a major storm that dropped 911 mm of rain from December 14 through 16. More than 8000 individual residences and 700 apartment buildings were destroyed or damaged and roads, telephone, electricity, water, and sewage systems were severely disrupted [Salcedo, 2000]. Total economic losses are estimated at US$1.79 billion [Salcedo, 2000]. The debris flows and floods inundated coastal communities and resulted in a catastrophic death toll of as many as 19,000 people [USAID, 2000]. The landslides and flash floods also changed hill slopes, stream channels, and alluvial fan morphology. The alluvial fans along this Caribbean coastline are dynamic zones of high geomorphic activity. Because most of the coastal zone in Vargas consists of steep mountain fronts that rise abruptly from the Caribbean Sea—rising to elevations in excess of 2,600 m--the alluvial fans provide practically the only flat areas upon which to build. Rebuilding and reoccupation of these areas requires careful determination of hazard zones to avoid future loss of life and property.

NATURAL HAZARDS ON ALLUVIAL FANS: THE DEBRIS FLOW AND FLASH FLOOD DISASTER OF DECEMBER 1999, VARGAS STATE, VENEZUELA

Larsen, M.C., Wieczorek, G. F., Eaton, L.S., and Torres-Sierra, H., 2001, Natural hazards on alluvial fans: the debris flow and flash flood disaster of December 1999, Vargas state, Venezuela: in W.F. Sylva (ed.), Proceedings of the Sixth Caribbean Islands Water Resources Congress, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, February 22 and 23, 2001, unpaginated CD

Abstract: 
Large populations live on or near alluvial fans in locations such as Los Angeles, California, Salt Lake City, Utah, Denver, Colorado, and lesser known areas such as Sarno, Italy, and Vargas, Venezuela. Debris flows and flash floods occur episodically in these alluvial fan environments, and place many communities at high risk during intense and prolonged rainfall. In December 1999, rainstorms induced thousands of landslides along the Cordillera de la Costa, Vargas, Venezuela. Rainfall accumulation of 293 mm during the first 2 weeks of December was followed by an additional 911 mm of rainfall on December 14 through 16. Debris flows and floods inundated coastal communities resulting in a catastrophic death toll of as many as 30,000 people. Flash floods and debris flows caused severe property destruction on alluvial fans at the mouths of the coastal mountain drainage network. In time scales spanning thousands of years, the alluvial fans along this Caribbean coastline are dynamic zones of high geomorphic activity. Because most of the coastal zone in Vargas consists of steep mountain fronts that rise abruptly from the Caribbean Sea, the alluvial fans provide practically the only flat areas upon which to build. Rebuilding and reoccupation of these areas requires careful determination of hazard zones to avoid future loss of life and property.
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