"The most terrifying day of our lives" - Spain in shock after torrential rain leaves trail of destruction
Ken Browne in Madrid

A 10-year-old boy clinging to a tree for eight hours as his family car was swept away, his father missing. It's one of many heartbreaking images to have surfaced from the floods caused by record-breaking rain in central Spain.

"It's like a warzone," one neighbor in the town of El Alamo told CGTN. 

Forty minutes from Madrid city center in the wider, the devastation and destruction is all around.

Cars are hanging off bridges and piled up in threes and fours by the torrents caused by record rainfall, mud-filled streets, as electric company workers in a crane try to restore power.

Cars piled up by torrents caused by record rainfall in the town of El Alamo. /CGTN
Cars piled up by torrents caused by record rainfall in the town of El Alamo. /CGTN

Cars piled up by torrents caused by record rainfall in the town of El Alamo. /CGTN

"Yesterday was catastrophic, the most terrifying day of our lives." El Alamo local Paula Olmedo, explained. "You could hear the people screaming asking for help, but we couldn't do anything, we felt helpless hearing the screams, we couldn't come out to help." 

Some did go out. There are stories of great bravery, of people diving into the water in the dark at 3am to pull neighbours from trapped cars, and younger people swimming into houses to help elderly members of the community to safety.

"I saw all the chaos from inside my house at 3am," continued Olmedo. "You can't even imagine it, and then when I came out this morning and saw all the destruction I wanted to cry, what will the owners do now?"

She added: "Yesterday it was impossible to get help, no matter how much we called the emergency services, everything totally collapsed and they couldn't access the town. Today we are getting some help but we need more, much more."


Clinging to life

Helping to shovel mud and sweep water out of the worst-hit houses among a group of young men alongside Olmedo was Marcelino Ibáñez.

"A lot of water suddenly started to flood into the house," he told CGTN, "filling the kitchen and the whole ground floor. The water level was above my waist……We were afraid, but I was most afraid for my mum as she is disabled."

In the nearby town of Aldea del Fresno a family was almost swept into the river Alberche as it burst its banks. Ten-year-old Ethan managed to cling to a tree while his sister and mother escaped the vehicle, but his father was taken by the torrent.

Ethan's sister and mother are in hospital while his father remains missing.

Tragedy struck elsewhere too. In Toledo a 20-year-old took the elevator down to the car park to see if he could rescue his car, but when he tried to leave the water came in too fast and cut off the electricity, trapping him in the elevator. He died before rescuers could reach him.

There have been dramatic images of bridges and buildings collapsing. In Aldea del Fresno alone three bridges were washed away. 


Heaviest rainfall since 1972

The storm has been dubbed a 'Depresión Aislada en Niveles Altos' (DANA), a slow-moving depression that dumps a huge amount of water.

Tarragona in Catalonia and Cadiz in Andalucia among the areas badly hit.

In the Catalonian municipality of Alcanar, residents in one apartment block tied towels and bed sheets together to rescue two young men holding on to columns, trying to resist being swept away by torrents caused by the rain.

Viral video appeared on Spanish social media showing the metro in Madrid's center filling up with water, with cars swept down the streets and people being rescued from their cars or airlifted from the top of their buildings by helicopter.

In Alcanar 218 liters per square metre fell, and in Mas de Barberas, also in the Ebro river delta, 243 liters.

The Madrid region saw its worst downpour since 1972.

A resident of El Alamo surveys the carnage. /CGTN
A resident of El Alamo surveys the carnage. /CGTN

A resident of El Alamo surveys the carnage. /CGTN

"Exceptional and abnormal"

On Sunday the mayor of Madrid city Jose Luis Almeida called it "exceptional and abnormal" rainfall, the extreme weather following an extreme summer with long and intense heatwaves.

President of the Madrid 'Comunidad', or wider region, Isabel Ayuso on Monday said she wants to declare a 'Catastrophe Zone' in the southeast of the region, meaning more help from the government and national level.

Other Spanish politicians were also calling for support from European disaster relief funds.

The bill is set to be in the tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars.

Blame and finger pointing has started too, as has the debate over Spain's place in the climate emergency and what the future holds.

Meanwhile those worst affected are recovering from the shock and taking stock, salvaging what they can from wrecked homes in towns like El Alamo, and in the worst cases, mourning loved ones or desperately awaiting news of those still missing.

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