Natural Disasters in Venezuela: Past Catastrophes and Future Risks
Venezuela is an attractive tourist destination, and despite the difficult economic situation and political instability, the number of people coming here on holiday is growing all the time. Tourists are drawn to the country by its natural wonders: magnificent mountains, waterfalls, jungles, islands and beaches. It is an ideal country for extended tours, hiking and other active holidays. However, tourists should be aware of the potential natural disasters or catastrophes they may encounter. Although a natural disaster always comes unexpectedly, being aware of its potential allows you to be better prepared.
Climatic Characteristics of Venezuela
Venezuela is a country in the northern part of South America with a long coastline, several dozen small islands and exposure to both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
The tectonic situation of the country is influenced by the contact line between the Caribbean and South American lithospheric plates and their mutual movement. The stresses that build up along this line can cause strong earthquakes, the epicentre of which is almost always in the Caribbean Sea. These earthquakes can generate tsunamis in addition to their direct effects.
Venezuela’s climate is tropical and subequatorial, with insignificant temperature gradients throughout the year. In fact, the country has only two seasons: dry winters and humid summers.
Hurricanes caused by tropical cyclones can occur in the summer. Although Venezuela lies to the south of the usual area affected by cyclones, they sometimes reach it.
The country’s relief is quite complex, with mountains and lowlands, an intricate network of rivers and dense jungle. Rainfall in the mountains can cause floods, landslides and mudslides. Droughts in the forests can cause forest fires.
Natural Factors That Lead to Natural Disasters in Venezuela
1. Seismic activity: Fairly high due to the collision of the South American and Caribbean tectonic plates. There is a possibility of a major earthquake occurring approximately every 2-3 years.
2. Volcanism: Although there are no active volcanoes in Venezuela, they exist on the islands of the Lesser Antilles Ridge, close to the coast of the Republic. Eruptions can be moderately dangerous for tourists.
3. Mountains: The Andes mountain range begins in the country and the Guiana Highlands are to the east. In the mountains there is always the possibility of rock falls, landslides and mudslides.
4. Long coastline: Potential hazards from storms, cyclones and tsunamis.
5. Heavy rainfall: Can cause severe flooding, landslides and mudslides, including torrents of mud and water that sweep away everything in their path. The northern parts of the country are most affected by floods and their aftermath.
6. Low rainfall and droughts: The combination of these factors often leads to natural fires in the equatorial forests.
The Importance of Studying the History of Natural Disasters
Studying the history of natural disasters is an important piece of information to acquire before travelling to your chosen country. Understanding the potential dangers that may await you can not only help you choose the right location, but also the time of year and season when the risk of being at the epicentre of a natural disaster is minimal.
For example, knowing that most of the rain falls on the coast between June and September, which often leads to flooding, will allow you to choose a different time to travel to these regions of Venezuela.
In this article you will learn about the chronology of natural disasters that have occurred in the republic in the past.
As mentioned above, Venezuela lies on the collision line of two tectonic plates – the Caribbean and the South American. The mutual collision of these plates can lead to quite strong earthquakes, especially along the country’s coast. Earthquakes are therefore a real threat to tourists. Below is a list of the strongest earthquakes that have occurred in the country in the past:
26 March 1812
An earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale caused considerable destruction in Caracas, San Felipe and Mérida. It caused significant topographical changes, notably the formation of a new lake. It is estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 people died.
28 October 1900
One of the strongest earthquakes in the country’s history struck off the coast of Miranda State. The magnitude reached 7.6. The towns of Macuto, Guarenas and especially the islands of Los Roques were badly affected. Large landslides occurred in several places, damaging railway lines. As a result, 50 people died and many were injured.
30 July 1967
The magnitude of this earthquake was only 6.6, but its epicentre was 20 kilometres from Caracas, causing significant damage in the Venezuelan capital. At least four apartment blocks collapsed and the cathedral was badly damaged. More than 300 people were killed and over one and a half thousand injured.
9 July 1997
A relatively strong earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale struck near the town of Cariaco. Dozens of buildings were destroyed, power was cut and tremors were felt on the resort island of Margarita and in Trinidad and Tobago. A total of 81 people were killed.
21 August 2018
The epicentre of the earthquake was in the sea near the town of Carupano and the island of Margarita. Its magnitude reached 7.3. Its reverberations were felt not only in Caracas, but also in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. However, the earthquake did not cause any serious damage. In Carupano, an escalator in a shopping centre collapsed and stones fell from the roofs of buildings. However, 5 people died of heart attacks.
Because most earthquakes in this region occur in the Caribbean Sea, they can cause tsunamis. Not every underwater earthquake causes a tsunami; several factors have to come together for this to happen. But the threat exists, and tsunamis have struck the coasts of the Republic more than once in the past.
28 October 1900
After a strong earthquake, a tsunami hit the coast of northern Venezuela. It flooded several villages and settlements and caused water levels to rise at the mouths of rivers. In most places the tsunami did not exceed 1 metre in height, but in the Barlovento region it reached 5 metres.
17 January 1929
After an earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale, a sudden retreat of water was observed 200 metres from the coast. This was a harbinger of an approaching tsunami. The wave height reached 3 metres, easily throwing two large boats into the jungle. The tsunami killed 40 people.
Floods and Cyclones
In summer, Venezuela not only experiences an increase in rainfall, but also the beginning of the tropical hurricane season. The hurricane basin lies just north of the coast, but sometimes hurricanes do hit Venezuela. At such times, the amount of rainfall increases dramatically, leading to the most catastrophic floods. Here are the most destructive hurricanes of recent years:
September 2004, Hurricane Ivan
The cyclone brought heavy rain and strong winds to the entire coast of Venezuela. It caused a storm surge of up to 4 metres and massive flooding of a number of rivers. As a result, more than 1,000 homes were damaged and 5 people were killed across the country.
September 2010, Hurricane Matthew
This hurricane hit Venezuela with heavy rains and winds of up to 77 kilometres per hour. Severe flooding occurred in Caracas, killing 7 people. Another person drowned in the state of Sucre.
June 2017, Hurricane Bret
The island of Margarita was particularly hard hit, with winds reaching 75 kilometres per hour. It uprooted trees and ripped the roofs off houses. Heavy rains caused landslides that destroyed dozens of homes. On the mainland, the state of Miranda was particularly hard hit. Nearly 15,000 people were left homeless.
October 2022, Hurricane Julia
This powerful tropical cyclone passed close to Venezuela, but dumped heavy rain and caused massive flooding. The state of Aragua was particularly hard hit, with 54 people dying.
Forest fires are more common in winter, when rainfall is minimal and the weather is dry and hot. However, they can also occur in summer, and fires often break out near populated areas, including near Caracas.
In March 2010, for example, a major fire broke out on the slopes of Mount Avila, at the foot of which lies the Venezuelan capital. The fire destroyed up to 100 hectares of forest in the national park.
In 2013, smoke from forest fires caused a major incident that resulted in 11 deaths.
In March 2016, the Sierra de Perija National Park, 6 kilometres from Caracas, caught fire. The area of the fire was estimated at 120,000 hectares, and acrid smoke filled the streets of the capital.
The biggest threats to tourists in Venezuela are earthquakes and floods.
It is currently impossible to predict the occurrence of earthquakes, although scientists are close to solving this problem. Therefore, the effects of an earthquake are always unexpected. If you are travelling to Venezuela, you should be prepared for such events and know what to do in an emergency.
You should also be aware of the risk of tsunamis, as most earthquakes occur in the Caribbean Sea.
Flooding in the country occurs in the summer and peaks in early autumn when the country is hit by tropical storms. These storms bring considerable rainfall, causing severe flooding. Cyclones affect both the islands and the mainland.
The country is not at risk of volcanic eruptions. However, there is a risk of ash ejection from volcanoes in neighbouring countries, which can disrupt air travel.
Forest fires do occur in Venezuela, sometimes spreading over large areas. However, they do not generally pose a significant threat to tourism.
The best time to visit Venezuela is between November and April. This is the period of the local winter, when the weather is dry and clear and the air and water temperatures remain relatively stable.