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Natural hazards on alluvial fans: The Venezuela debris flow and flash flood disaster

July 1, 2002

In December 1999, rainstorms induced thousands of landslides along the Cordillera de la Costa, Vargas, northern Venezuela. Rainfall on December 2-3 totaled 200 millimeters (8 inches) and was followed by a major storm (911 millimeters, or 36 inches) on December 14 through 16. Debris flows and flash floods on alluvial fans inundated coastal communities, caused severe property destruction, and resulted in a death toll estimated at 19,000 people. Because most of the coastal zone in Vargas consists of steep mountain fronts that rise abruptly from the Caribbean Sea, the alluvial fans are the only areas where slopes are not too steep to build. Rebuilding and reoccupation of these areas requires careful determination of potential hazard zones to avoid future loss of life and property.