Ebre Delta shell shocked by effects of Storm Gloria
Catalonia's unique wetland area left reeling after wind and rain threaten its rice fields and precious flora and fauna
An area of Catalonia that has been hit hardest by the effects of Storm Gloria since Sunday is the Ebre Delta, one of the largest wetland areas in the western Mediterranean and a region that is rich in flora and fauna, as well as being a major center of tourism and rice growing.
In fact, the strong winds and heavy rain caused by the storm had on Wednesday left a third of the Delta's rice fields swamped with salt water, over 3,000 hectares so far, which has led local representatives to call for the area to be designated a catastrophe zone.
With the areas of the Delta that were most affected by the storm still not accessible, the damage done to rice fields could be even more serious, and to make matters worse, the local pumping systems used to drain the land of water are out of action.
While salt water encroaching on the rice fields is nothing new, it has never been seen on this scale. "What we might see happen in a space of a dozen years, has happened in a single night," said a leading representative of the rice growers, Xavi Curto.
Local landmarks under threat
Meanwhile, many of the local beaches have been seriously affected by the storm, while the isthmus known as the Barra del Trabucador, near the town of Sant Carles de la Ràpita, is entirely underwater, with many roads flooded and unusable.
Another landmark in the Delta that is causing concern is the Illa de Buda, a natural island that is the result of thousands of years of sedimentation and home to over 300 species of bird, and which can only be visited with special authorization.
The mayor of the nearby town of Sant Jaume d'Enveja, Joan Castor Gonell, warned that when the waters subside "Buda will be cut off by the sea, with all its ecological value, the encroachment of the seawater, and who knows for how long, it all worries us a great deal."
8,000 hectares of natural park at risk
The damage to the next rice harvest and the paddy fields is just part of the concern in the Ebre Delta, as almost 8,000 hectares is occupied by a natural park that has protected wetlands, beaches, marshes, salt pans, and estuaries providing habitats for many species.
A paradise for birdwatchers, the region is also a stopover point for more than 300 species of migratory birds, as well as being famed for its population of wild flamingos, while also having the world's largest colony of Audouin's gulls.
Call for "forceful" and "effective" action
While the damage to the area's delicate natural environment waits to be seen, the Delta's human population has also been hit hard, with homes and other buildings flooded and, on Wednesday lunchtime, with over 70% of residents still without power.
"There are no precedents," said the mayor of Deltebre, Lluís Soler, on Wednesday morning, "we are experiencing a situation of total emergency," he said, calling for the Catalan and Spanish authorities to provide "forceful" and "effective" action for the area.
Delta needs solution "here and now," says president
It was also the message from president Quim Torra on Wednesday, who said the area "needs a solution here and now, it can't wait any longer, an immediate action plan is required," after a meeting with local councils in the Delta.
Torra added that government heads would meet in the evening with the heads of the relevant departments to discuss the "genuine natural catastrophe" in the Delta in order to analyze the situation and evaluate the risks.