Guatemalan and Mexican Armed Forces Cooperate to Rescue Landslide Victims

Guatemalan and Mexican Armed Forces Cooperate to Rescue Landslide Victims

By Dialogo
November 05, 2015

The Guatemalan and Mexican Armies recently joined forces in a rescue mission after a massive October 1 landslide left hundreds dead, missing, and injured in the town of Santa Catarina Pinula.

After heavy rains in the region caused the landslide, killing 280 and leaving scores missing and injured, 64 members from the Mexican Armed Forces and other officials coordinated their rescue efforts with the Guatemalan Army. The Mexican team consisted of 12 natural disaster specialists from the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense; 11 from the Mexican Secretariat of the Navy; 32 from the Mexican Federal Police; one from the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs; and eight from the National Civil Protection Liaison. They participated in search and rescue missions; ground assessments of affected areas; and the removal of debris from the displacement of more than 17,680 cubic meters of earth that were dislodged in the quadrant of El Cambray II.

“There was a seamless and effective integration of the Mexican delegation with the search and rescue missions that reached out to those affected,” Infantry Brigadier General Hugo Fernando Rodríguez Cifuentes, spokesman for the Guatemalan Army, told Diálogo.
“The Mexican government has offered humanitarian assistance to the government of Guatemala and, with this show of good faith, demonstrates the wonderful relationship between our two countries that share borders, cultures, and bonds of friendship.”

Working in three search and rescue groups, they proceed for two-hour periods in collaboration with CONRED's Guatemalan Emergency Operations Center. The Mexican contingent also included 16 dogs specially trained to find missing persons and cadavers that could be entombed among the tons of earth displaced by the mudslide.

Guatemalan Armed Forces responds quickly

In recent years, the El Cambray II quadrant has suffered the effects of swells from the river including unstable hillsides, the undermining of structures, and erosion near homes, according to Guatemala's National Coordination for Disaster Reduction (CONRED), the entity tasked with preventing, mitigating, attending to, and participating in the rehabilitation of areas struck by natural disasters.

The swelling of the Pinula River combined with the landslide left 70 people missing, injured 27, and destroyed more than 180 homes, leaving 407 people displaced, according to CONRED.

The Guatemalan Army’s response “was immediate,” Brig. Gen. Rodríguez said.

"Thanks to the constant communication with relief agencies, 500 personnel were initially deployed as part of the search and rescue operations. This number was reduced in the days that followed to 300.”

Guatemalan authorities deployed 16 excavators, seven backhoes, three front-end loaders, 50 dump trucks, and two tanker trucks. While Military reservists packaged and unloaded provisions such as food and water for the displaced, the Special Reserve Corps for Citizen Security provided security for them. The Corps concentrated on deterring crime.

Most members of the Mexican contingent returned home after their six-day mission on October 9, though some specialized technical personnel from the National Disaster Prevention Center, which is operated by the Mexican Army, are continuing their work in Guatemala.

“At this moment, a contingent of engineers from the Mexican Army are still helping with the work that needs to be done in Guatemala. They coordinate the work and procedures used by the Humanitarian and Rescue Unit (UHR) and CONRED regarding prevention and the reconstruction of the affected areas. Both Guatemala and Mexico rely on personnel trained in how to respond to natural disasters to be able to carry out its relief work.”

Guatemala at a risk for natural disasters

Because of its geography, Guatemala is classified as being at high-risk for natural disasters. Dangerous natural events such as landslides, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other meteorological phenomena have taken the lives of thousands of people and have also caused catastrophic material loss.

In May 2010, a few days after the eruption of the Pacaya Volcano, Tropical Storm Agatha caused landslides and flooding that killed 170 people and caused 110 to go missing, according to the Institute for Conflict and Humanitarian Action Studies (IECAH). The two disasters inflicted more than $982 million in damage and economic losses, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

In October 2005, 670 people died, 850 disappeared, and 3.5 million were injured when Hurricane Stan passed through Guatemala, according to Publinews.
The hurricane also caused $983 million in damages, according
to the Guatemalan Secretariat of Planning and Programming.

And in November 1998, 268 people lost their lives to Hurricane Mitch, which caused Guatemala to lose $747 million, according to the Center for Economic and Environmental Studies.