Weather catastrophes in the modern era

In September 1968, cyclonic storms prompted unusually heavy rains in South Sinaloa. For several days practically all lands in the coastal zone were completely covered with water. All crops in progress were lost, nearly all livestock drowned, and practically all mobile marine life was driven out of the inshore marine ecosystem. Moreover, the region's oyster beds were entirely lost as a result of several days' exposure to fresh water and because of their burial under a thick layer of silt which had washed into the marine ecosystem.

This flood was still much talked about by the local people three years later, when the author started his first field studies. Moreover, in the larger towns, particularly Escuinapa and Rosario, in public buildings and in business offices such as banks, various photographs documenting aspects of the 1968 flood were displayed. They were remarkable photos: one showing the Baluarte River flooding over its banks at Rosario, some 60 feet (18 m) above its normal level for that time of year; others showing settlements in the rural countryside out along the flat coastal plain, water halfway up the sides of the houses, people standing in waist-deep water, no ground showing anywhere. Local residents noted that several people had drowned or had otherwise been lost, and that following the withdrawal of the high waters there were widespread food shortages which had lasted for more than a year. Furthermore, they said, much of the limited aid which the federal government attempted to provide the region never reached the people who needed it most, having been sold instead by corrupt government officials in charge of distributing it.

In 1968 the low-lying part of the coastal plain had approximately 38,000 inhabitants, almost none of whom had many options for relocation, not even temporarily, following the great flood. This is because practically all of South Sinaloa, since the close of the Revolution in the mid-1920s, had experienced several decades of land reform under Mexico's ongoing ejido program, which had brought about the immigration of many impoverished rural people to the region from elsewhere in Mexico.* Hence, whereas there had always been ample vacant land on higher ground to retreat to in the past (at least over the past two centuries), by 1968 this was no longer the case. By then the previously vacant lands on higher ground further inland had become crowded with immigrants who

* Mexico's ejido program, launched in the era of post-revolutionary reform, was actively promoted until fairly recent times. Briefly, it entails the federal government's seizure of large land holdings and then redistributing the land to communities of impoverished rural people who either already live in the area or who are resettled there. The lands are then owned in common by the ejidal communities, while use rights to particular plots are ascribed to certain individuals for their use during their lifetimes.

had moved there as part of the post-revolutionary land reform movement. Thus, one response option for peasants living along the coastal plain who sought to flee tropical storm impacts was no longer available.

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