Ebre river delta damaged again, this time due to Storm Filomena

Local community urges action after second devastation in a year, as snow also disrupts schools, minor roads, and a wine cellar

The Ebre river delta's Barra del Trabucador after Storm Filomena (Courtesy of Infosa)
The Ebre river delta's Barra del Trabucador after Storm Filomena (Courtesy of Infosa) / ACN

ACN | Sant Carles de la Ràpita

January 11, 2021 12:23 PM

Scientists had already anticipated that the Ebre river delta would be one of Catalonia's regions most vulnerable to climate change in the 21st century. And so far, they have proven to be right.

Last weekend, the delta experienced damage due to Storm Filomena, which in Catalonia has particularly affected the south.

A 6 km-long isthmus known as the Barra del Trabucador, near the town of Sant Carles de la Ràpita, was battered by the storm, with up to five-meter high waves and sea levels rising by 40 centimeters.

On Saturday and Sunday, around 500 meters of the isthmus were flooded and by Monday afternoon it was apparent that more than half of the Barra del Trabucador had been wiped from the map.

Storm Filomena has caused half a dozen ruptures in the isthmus, some several hundred meters wide, where the sea penetrates freely into Alfacs Bay, destroying the previous emergency work that had been carried out in 2020.

Access to the Salines de la Trinitat salt mines overland is almost impossible and the condition of the entire peninsula that is connected to the mainland by the isthmus, Punta de la Banya, is still uncertain as some beaches and lagoons were also affected by the rough weather.

This comes almost exactly a year after Storm Gloria swept through parts of Catalonia, wreaking havoc on the Ebre river delta in particular and flooding the Barra del Trabucador, beaches, and roads.

"Inaction" in the Ebre river delta

Members of the local community, which have come in an entity called Taula del Consens del Delta, say they will hold authorities accountable for the management of the area and complained of their "inaction" after Gloria.

"The small amount of work that Spain's government has carried out has proven to be insufficient. The damage is severe and I do not know if we will be able to recover the Trabucador," said Joan Sucarrats, the manager of Infosa, the company in charge of the salt mines.

"It is a disgrace to see the inaction of the two [Catalan and Spanish] administrations, especially the Catalan one, which has €6 million available for the delta but now alleges it does not have permission from Spain to perform emergency works," he added on Sunday. 

8,000 hectares of nature park at risk

The rice paddy fields are part of the concern in the Ebre Delta, but not the only one, as almost 8,000 hectares are occupied by a nature park that has protected wetlands, beaches, marshes, salt pans, and estuaries that are home to many species.

A paradise for birdwatchers, the region is also a stopover point for more than 300 migratory bird species and is famed for its wild flamingo population in addition to also having the world's largest colony of Audouin's gulls.

Other consequences of Filomena

Storm Filomena is now over, but the interior ministry is still concerned about "the combination of snow, ice, and cold."

The high-speed train link between Barcelona and Madrid is expected to resume its service on Monday at 2 pm, while commuter trains are running, with the exception of regional routes between Reus and Riba-Roja and between Salomó and Lleida.

Storm Filomena was especially harsh in the south and the west, where there was over 50 cm of snow.

As a result, 11 minor roads were closed and around 50 more required the use of snow chains – Civil Protection warns there could possibly be ice on major roads including the A-2, N-145 and N-260.

The bad weather also left thousands of people with power outages, and as of Monday morning, there are around 400 households in Priorat county and surrounding areas that do not have electricity.

As for schools, a total of 53 of them were not able to open for the first day of the second term due to the snow and the lack of electricity, according to the Department of Education, with 3,182 students affected. The areas with most closed shut on Monday were Camp de Tarragona (27), Ponent (15) and Terres de l'Ebre (12). Some school bus routes in 14 counties were also disrupted, affecting more than 1,600 children. 

While no fatalities have been reported in Catalonia, the snow also damaged some buildings including the Vall Llach wine cellar, which is owned by well-known singer and former MP Lluís Llach.

The building's ceiling collapsed under the weight of over 50 cm of snow and some 40,000 bottles were destroyed, resulting in estimated damages of at least €500,000.