The number of houses at risk of collapsing in a neighborhood in Tijuana, Baja California, has increased from 90 to 272, affecting more than 1,000 people.
Some 100 families were forced to abandon their homes in late February in the rugged, hilly terrain of the Camino Verde neighborhood after cracks opened in the ground, causing some buildings to collapse.
However, the problem appears to have worsened, forcing many more to evacuate after the area included in a high-risk landslide zone was expanded.
At least 28 disabled people, 365 minors and another 782 adults have been affected, taking the total to 1,175 people.
The deputy director of Civil Protection for Tijuana, Alberto Castro, said that local conditions and the type of construction built in the area were a risky combination. “The presence of moisture in the earth, steep slopes … without protection and very heavy buildings for the type of terrain … and if we add to that … some micro fault or geological faults,” made collapses more likely, he said.
The house of one local woman called Dolores no longer has a roof or walls. She said she missed the home her family was forced to leave. “My husband didn’t want to leave, until he heard heavy things were falling … It makes me want to scream, because I was very accustomed to living here,” she said.
Another local woman, María del Carmen Pérez, said the losses would be suffered by her children. “The feelings of a whole lifetime can all fall apart in just a moment. Assets that we’d already bequeathed to our children are destroyed …” she said.
Baja California Governor Marina del Pilar Ávila Olmeda said the families would be given financial support. “We are looking at land where we can relocate these families, but in the meantime … they will be given resources so that they can rent a house,” she said.
However, some local people confronted Ávila to say that officials hadn’t fulfilled their promise to provide funds. “They said that support was going to be given, but when we took our papers they turned us back and told us no,” one woman said, before adding that officials told her they could only provide assistance to property owners.
In response, Ávila said that all of the families should receive the same treatment, before handing the task to the state welfare minister.
Housing developments in elevated parts of the city have been built over streams, and the lack of natural drainage makes those areas vulnerable to landslides, but it is not clear if that was the case for the Camino Verde neighborhood. Heavy rains and flooding can provoke shifting earth and landslides, as can earthquakes.
Tijuana is located in the Imperial Fault Zone, which encompasses most of southern California and makes Tijuana vulnerable to quakes.
The problem of landslides and dangerously shifting soil goes back years in the city, with multiple incidents in various neighborhoods that have forced people to evacuate their homes. In 2015, after a landslide provoked by a water leak forced 19 homes to be evacuated in the Anexa Miramar neighborhood and left 21 more buildings at risk, Baja California’s Civil Protection agency called the risk of landslides and shifting earth “an old and serious problem.”
It blamed, among other factors, Tijuana’s history of irregular and “abusive” construction of developments on uneven land with soil layers that are not well compacted and that vary in their permeability.