Mexico: hydro-electric authorities blasted in Tabasco disaster

With 70% of southern Mexico’s Gulf Coast state of Tabasco under water following weeks of heavy rains, Gov. Andrés Granier has compared capital Villahermosa (pop. 500,000) to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The Rio Grijalva, which flows through Villahermosa, has surged six feet above its normal height. Television shows images of Mexican Navy helicopters scooping up children from rooftops and rescuers lowering elderly people into boats. Many thousands more waded or swam though chest-high water out of the stricken city. The state’s critical oil infrastructure is in ruins, and up to a million have been displaced. (NYT, Nov. 4; NYT, Nov. 3; eFluxMedia, Nov. 2) Gov. Granier is demanding that the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) shut down the Peñitas hydro-dam upstream from Villahermosa on the Grijalva, in the foothills of the Chiapas Highlands. The CFE has reduced the flow through the dam by two-thirds to 800 cubic meters per second, but refuses to shut it completely. Said Granier: “The game is over; they must completely stop the pumping through Peñitas, because I demand respect for the people… Energy generation is now secondary, today the most important thing…is to lower the level of the river.” (La Jornada, Nov. 4)

CFE director Alfredo Elíaz Ayub countered that the past week has seen more rain in the Grijalva basin than any other period in the past 50 years, with the Peñitas and Malpaso dams holding back 1.8 billion cubic meters of water. He said that if not for the CFE operations the chaos in Villahermosa would be even worse, and pointed out that nothing can be done to control the level of the Rio Usumacinta, which has no dams in Mexican territory. The Grijalva and Usumacinta, which begins in the highlands of Guatemala, meet at Villahermosa. (El Universal, Nov. 2)

The rains in southern Mexico are said to be unrelated to Hurricane Noel, which has left thousands displaced in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. (AP, Nov. 2) We have noted that storms have displaced thousands in the Caribbean and Central America repeatedly this year, with little note in the world media.

See our last posts on Mexico, Chiapas, Tabasco and struggles for control of water.

  1. Mudslide buries Chiapas village
    From Reuters, Nov. 5:

    A huge wall of mud and water engulfed a remote village in flood-ravaged southern Mexico on Monday and the government said at least 16 people were missing.

    Mexican media reported as many as 30 people could be missing in the landslide in southern Chiapas state that buried 100 houses in the village of San Juan Grijalva.

    TV images showed a swathe of jungle swamped by water and mud, and bare earth where houses once stood in the community of 500 people.

    “A mountain fell into the river, blocking the River Grijalva … and created a wave … that has flattened the town,” Chiapas Gov. Juan Sabines told Mexican radio.

    No bodies have been recovered from the site, Sabines said. “We’ve found people who were able to flee the enormous wave by running into the hills,” he added.

  2. Zapatista aid to Tabasco
    Residents of the Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities of El Trabajo, Vicente Guerrero and Francisco Villa in Chiapas organized an aid caravan to the flood-stricken communities of Tacotalpa and Oxolotán, Tabasco. The aid consisted mostly of fresh food grown in the Zapatista communities. (La Jornada, Nov. 29)

  3. Homes flooded in Chiapas
    Some 100 campesino homes were destroyed along the Río Grijalva, when the flow through the Malpaso and Peñitas hydro-dams was increased to 220 and 60 cubic meters per second, respectively, in an effort to dislodge a “cork” in the river formed by last month’s mudslide. The homes were within 33 communities which had been ordered evacuated due to flood risk. (La Jornada, Dec. 19)