The Heat Is Online

Killer flash flood in Pyrenees -- 1996

"Flash Floods in Spanish Pyrenees Kills Scores," The New York Times, Aug. 9, 1996.

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BIESCAS, Spain, Aug. 8, 1996 -- (Reuter) - At least 62 people died and more than 180 were injured when a torrent of mud and rock swept over a crowded family campsite in the Pyrenees mountains of northern Spain, officials said Thursday.

They warned that the final death toll might be much higher because an unknown number of the hundreds of people at the campsite were still missing after the freak flood Wednesday night, triggered by torrential rains.

Some of the bodies were pulled from the mud as far as 10 miles downstream from the campsite, officials said. Only 17 had been identified by midday, including six victims from Germany, France and Belgium, state radio said, but the campers also

included British and Dutch holidaymakers.

``I have flown over the area -- it's a dreadful sight,'' said Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who interrupted a beach holiday to survey the damage.

Rescue teams recovered te computer disk drive containing information on guests at the campsite, which had been lost in the flood. The information is vital to determine the number of missing campers.

Officials feared dozens more bodies could still lie downstream in a river near the ``Virgen de las Nieves'' (Virgin of the Snows) campsite in the mountain town of Biescas, about 80 miles east of Pamplona.

``It all happened in a flash -- I can't explain it, it was like a giant wave carrying off everything, the cars, the trailers,'' one survivor told Spanish television.

``It was a matter of seconds, not even minutes. The main street in the campsite was a river of mud, between three and six feet deep.''

Wrecked cars, flattened caravans and other debris from the site, which was at full capacity with around 700 tourists, were carried more than half a mile away.

Rescuers pulled 26 bodies from the mud before breaking off overnight, their work hampered by darkness and by blocked roads. They were joined by soldiers and by military divers when the search for victims resumed at daybreak Thursday.

Torrential rains began early Wednesday evening, setting off an avalanche of earth and stones which swept away people, tents and cars, witnesses said.

They said some people had saved themselves by clinging to trees. One man who survived by grabbing hold of a branch said he had watched bodies being swept past in the strong flow.

Also:

"Fifty campers die in freak Spanish Pyrenees flood"

MADRID, Aug. 8, 1996 -- (Reuter) - At least 50 people died and more than 180 were injured when a torrent of mud and rock swept over a crowded family campsite in the Pyrenees mountains of northern Spain, officials said on Thursday.

They warned that the final death toll might be much higher because an unknown number of the hundreds of holidaymakers staying at the campsite were still missing after the freak flood on Wednesday night, caused by torrential rains.

The site's computerised booking statistics were lost, but officials said the campers included tourists from Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

They feared dozens more bodies could still lie downstream in a river near the ``Virgen de las Nieves'' (Virgin of the Snows) campsite in the mountain town of Biescas, about 130 km (80 miles) east of Pamplona.

``It all happened in a flash -- I can't explain it, it was like a giant wave carrying off everything, the cars, the trailers,'' one survivor told Spanish television.

``It was a matter of seconds, not even minutes. The main street in the campsite was a river of mud, between one and two metres (three and six feet) deep.''

Wrecked cars, flattened caravans and other remnants of the site, which was at full capacity with around 700 tourists, were carried up to a kilometre (half a mile) away.

Rescuers pulled 26 bodies from the mud before breaking off overnight, their work hampered by a blackout and by blocked roads. They were joined by the army and by military divers when the search for victims resumed at daybreak on Thursday.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar interrupted a beach holiday to fly to the area and inspect the damage.

Torrential rains began early on Wednesday evening, setting off an avalanche of earth and stones which swept away people, tents and cars, witnesses said.

They said there were several bodies in the nearby river and that some people had managed to cling on to trees for safety.

One man who survived by grabbing hold of a branch said the torrent lasted only a few seconds but ripped the camping site apart. He watched bodies being swept past in the strong flow.

Police said they had not identified any of the dead so far, adding that the task was complicated because most were not carrying documents.

Television footage showed a caravan with a British licence plate and there were indications that many foreign tourists were staying at the site, renowned for its beauty.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from the area to a sports stadium in the town of Biescas where they were given food and shelter, a doctor said.

Eighty children were evacuated from a camping site in nearby Pineta for fear the river Cinca would burst its banks.