Journal cover Journal topic
Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 1069-1085, 2015
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-15-1069-2015
© Author(s) 2015. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
27 May 2015
The 27 May 1937 catastrophic flow failure of gold tailings at Tlalpujahua, Michoacán, Mexico
J. L. Macías1, P. Corona-Chávez2, J. M. Sanchéz-Núñez3, M. Martínez-Medina4,5, V. H. Garduño-Monroy2, L. Capra6, F. García-Tenorio1, and G. Cisneros-Máximo1 1Instituto de Geofísica, Unidad Michoacán, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Campus-Morelia, Morelia, 58090, Michoacán, Mexico
2Instituto de Investigaciones en Ciencias de la Tierra, Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, Morelia, 58040, Michoacán, Mexico
3Instituto Politécnico Nacional-CIIEMAD. Miguel Othón de Mendizabal s/n. Col. La Escalera., 07320, Distrito Federal, Mexico
4Maestría en Geociencias y Planificación del Territorio, Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, Morelia, 58040, Michoacán, Mexico
5Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática, Centro de Información Michoacán, 58130, Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico
6Centro de Geociencias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Campus-Juriquilla, Querétaro, 76230, Mexico
Abstract. On 27 May 1937, after one week of sustained heavy rainfall, a voluminous flood caused the death of at least 300 people and the destruction of the historic El Carmen church and several neighborhoods in the mining region of Tlalpujahua, Michoacán, central Mexico. This destructive flood was triggered by the breaching of the impoundment of the Los Cedros tailings and the sudden release of circa 16 Mt of water-saturated waste materials. The muddy silty flood, moving at estimated speeds of 20–25 m s−1, was channelized along the Dos Estrellas and Tlalpujahua drainages and devastated everything along its flow path. After advancing 2.5 km downstream, the flood slammed into El Carmen church and surrounding houses at estimated speeds of ~ 7 m s−1, destroying many construction walls and covering the church floor with ~ 2 m of mud and debris. Revision of eyewitness accounts and newspaper articles, together with analysis of archived photographic materials, indicated that the flood consisted of three muddy pulses. Stratigraphic relations and granulometric data for selected proximal and distal samples show that the flood behaved as a hyperconcentrated flow along most of its trajectory. A total volume of the Lamas flood deposit was estimated as 1.5 × 106 m3. The physically based bidimensional (2-D) hydraulic model FLO-2D was implemented to reproduce the breached flow (0.5 sediment concentration) with a maximum flow discharge of 8000 m3 s−1 for a total outflow volume (sediment + water) of 2.5 × 106 m3, similar to the calculations obtained using field measurements.

Even though premonitory signs of possible impoundment failure were reported days before the flood, and people living downstream were alerted, authorities ordered no evacuations or other mitigative actions. The catastrophic flood at Tlalpujahua provides a well-documented, though tragic, example of impoundment breaching of a tailings dam caused by the combined effects of intense rainfall, dam weakness, and inadequate emergency-management protocols – unfortunately an all-too-common case scenario for most of the world's mining regions.


Citation: Macías, J. L., Corona-Chávez, P., Sanchéz-Núñez, J. M., Martínez-Medina, M., Garduño-Monroy, V. H., Capra, L., García-Tenorio, F., and Cisneros-Máximo, G.: The 27 May 1937 catastrophic flow failure of gold tailings at Tlalpujahua, Michoacán, Mexico, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 1069-1085, https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-15-1069-2015, 2015.
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Short summary
On 27 May 1937, a voluminous flood caused the death of at least 300 people in the mining region of Tlalpujahua, Michoacán, central Mexico. The flood was triggered by the breaching of the impoundment of the Los Cedros tailings. The flood reached maximum speeds of ~25 m/s and deposited 1.5 x 10^6 m3 of material. The FLO-2D hydraulic model reproduced the breached flow (0.5 sediment concentration) with a maximum flow discharge of 8000 m3/sec and a total outflow volume of 2.5 x 106 m3.
On 27 May 1937, a voluminous flood caused the death of at least 300 people in the mining region...
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