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Severe floods in the north-western Catalan Pyrenees

The ice melting from the mountain tops and the heavy rain episodes of the last 24 hours have caused flooding of the Garonne, Noguera Pallaresa, Noguera de Cardós and other rivers in the mountain counties of the Val d’Aran, Pallars Sobirà, Alta Ribagorça and north of Pallars Jussà. More than 300 people have been evacuated from their homes in flooded or at risk areas. No victims or missing people have been reported, but material damage is considerable. Bridges have been swallowed by the waters and some roads have partially collapsed since the land beneath them has been swept away by the flood. Road access to the Val d’Aran County was closed as a precaution. Rain is expected to continue during the night and the reservoirs are overflowing because they have reached their maximum capacity.

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19 June 2013 12:44 AM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- On Tuesday, the ice melting from the mountain tops and the heavy rain episodes of the last 24 hours caused flooding of the Garonne, Noguera Pallaresa, Noguera de Cardós and other rivers in the mountain counties of the Val d\u2019Aran, Pallars Sobirà, Alta Ribagorça and north of Pallars Jussà. Since the early hours of the morning rain had been pouring down and the water level of the rivers started to rise significantly and, at a certain point, they eventually overflowed as the rain continued to fall. The area is famous for its white waters allowing the practice of rafting, but the rivers were transformed into violent wild torrents of brown rough waters, mud and branches. During the course of the day more than 300 people were evacuated from their homes in flooded or at risk areas. In the last few days, several precautions have been taken as this year\u2019s thaw and rain episodes are exceptionally copious. The Catalan Government\u2019s Civil Protection, Fire-fighters and Catalan Police corps have coordinated the evacuation and protection operations. No victims or missing people have been reported, but material damage is considerable. Some houses located just on the verge of the rivers could not resist the water\u2019s strength and many had their basements and ground floors flooded. In addition, a few bridges have been swallowed by the waters and some roads have partially collapsed since the land beneath them has been swept away by the flood. Road access to the Val d\u2019Aran County was closed as a precaution. However, rain is expected to continue during the night between Tuesday and Wednesday and the reservoirs have already started to overflow because they have reached their maximum capacity. On Tuesday evening, 115 litres per square metre had fallen on Vielha in the previous 24 hours and between 60 and 115 in the neighbouring areas and mountain peaks. The situation is tense but still under control. Water levels will remain very high for a few hours and more areas could be flooded. However, it is forecast that water levels will start to decrease on Wednesday morning since the rain will stop and rivers will quickly transport the water excess to lower areas, away from the mountain counties. The area had not registered equivalent floods since 1982.


The Val d\u2019Aran\u2019s Syndic \u2013 who is the main authority of the County\u2019s General Council \u2013, Carlos Barrera, described the situation on Tuesday evening as \u201Cextremely severe and complicated\u201D. The Aran Syndic emphasised that the measures adopted since Friday have ensured that no casualties have happened, despite the severe floods, \u201Cwhich is the most important thing\u201D. \u201CEverybody had many hours to react and this has been a key factor in not having to regret casualties now\u201D, he said. However, he regretted the \u201Ccolossal\u201D material losses caused by the water. Barrera told the CNA that the Town Hall of Vielha is monitoring the evolution of the Nere River, which crosses the old town, in case they have to evacuate. The town is also crossed by the Garonne River, which rises in the Val d\u2019Aran and discharges into the Atlantic Ocean near Bordeaux.

Work continues to protect areas and properties from the water

Barrera also explained that machines have been working and will continue to work during the night at critical points, such as bridges, to prevent them being blocked and to allow water to continue flowing under them. In addition, extra walls are being built to save areas from the water. This is the case in the industrial area of Mijaran, in Vielha. The water has reached the N-230 road, going from the town to the French border, and a wall is being built diagonally to bring the water towards the river again. The road is closed between kilometres 164 and 187, and therefore the main road communication between the Val d\u2019Aran and France is cut.

Houses and bridges destroyed by the wild mountain rivers

Many people have been evacuated from their homes, since they were at risk. By the end of Tuesday, more than 500 will have to sleep out of their beds. Evacuations have taken place in Les, Bòssost, Arties, Naut Aran and Vielha, among other villages. For instance, the people of Naut Aran will spend the night at a sports pavilion. In addition, the inhabitants of seven houses that have been totally flooded will spent the night in a hotel. A house in Arties has collapsed, as well as another one in Casarilh. In addition, a restaurant in Salardú has the wild waters of the river running right through it. In fact, since it is an area located at a high altitude with high mountain peaks, there are a lot of white waters and rivers tend to transport water in a dangerous way. Now, since they are carrying much more water than normal, the rivers are simply a wild torrent of brown rough waters, mud and branches. The water is so violent that three bridges have been destroyed in Casarilh, Escunyau and Arties.

In fact, the rivers are currently transporting between 10 and 20 times the average volume they have during the year. The Noguera Pallaresa is transporting 160 cubic metres per second and the Noguera Ribagorçana 190. In lower lands they are preparing themselves for the water that will arrive. For instance, the Riba-roja reservoir in Southern Catalonia, on the Ebro River, is releasing 1,400 cubic metres of water per second, as the water from the Western Catalan Pyrenees discharges into the Ebro. The Segre River, passing through the city of Lleida, is already registering high levels of water with 208 cubic metres per second but is expected to reach 500 cubic metres on Wednesday.

Avoiding unnecessary trips

The Catalan Government has insisted that people must not return to their homes until they are told. In addition, only strictly necessary trips are advisable in the area, in order not to put people at risk and to allow emergency services to concentrate on evacuations and building defences against the water. Fire-fighters, police officers and civil protection workers from other areas of Catalonia have been transferred to the affected counties.

Power breakdown but partially restored

In the morning, a large part of Vielha \u2013 the Val d\u2019Aran\u2019s capital \u2013 was without power, as well as other neighbouring towns. During the day, Endesa \u2013 the main electricity company in the area \u2013 transported power generators by helicopter and part of the service has been restored. On Tuesday at noon, 4,400 people were without electricity. However, by the end of the day, the number had been reduced to 2,100. Work to restore the service will continue in daylight.

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  • The Garona River in Arties (by M. Lluvich)

  • A bridge destroyed in Salardú (by M. Lluvich)

  • The Garona River in Arties (by M. Lluvich)
  • A bridge destroyed in Salardú (by M. Lluvich)