‘LA RIUÁ’ October 14, 1957: 60 Years Since The Flood That Changed Valencia Forever

On October 14, 1957, a little known disaster occurred in the Spanish city of Valencia. When I first moved to Valencia in 2005, I heard the story of the Turia (the Valencia river) flooding the city in the 1950’s. Now, the city has the beauty of a park in place of the dry riverbed. Years after I first moved to Spain, I decided to research the event in more depth (excuse the pun), and it is the backdrop for my second Secrets of Spain novel, Vengeance in the Valencian Water (out Jan. 2014).

In my first book of the series, Blood in Valencian Soil, Cayetano, a bullfighter from Madrid and Luna, a bike mechanic from Valencia, team up to find the burial-place of a murdered Republican soldier and his involvement with an International Brigade nurse, who disappeared from Cuenca in 1939.  The second book of the series, while on the search for more civil war mass graves, Cayetano’s Falange member grandfather, José, is forced to tell his story of survival during the Valencian flood which changed his life forever.

city mapThe Turia wasn’t always a flowing torrent of water. While there has been recorded flood records since the 1300’s, the riverbed spent most of its time dry, where people would walk to the tiny stream to wash their clothes. Shack houses sprung up in the riverbed. Sales of animals were held down in the riverbed. It was not a year round flowing river. Serious floods had happened every century that the modern city was based against the Turia, the most recent in only 1949 when several dozen people drowned. Even so, they were unprepared for October 1957.

Before you read on, here is the link to a documentary made in 2007 by Valencia University, with radio reports, video footage and eyewitness accounts of the flood. It’s all in Spanish, but if you don’t speak the language, you could just mute the sound and watch the video if you want, you will get the idea. Floods pretty much speak for themselves.

Each October, rain comes to the Valencia region, not so much in the city area, but in the surrounding plains and mountainous area that separates the city from inland Spain (If you’re new to this area, Valencia is both a city and a province of Spain. Just a heads-up). The rainfall surges during this change in autumn, onto land that is very dry after a long year without much rain. On Saturday 12 October, 1957, the heavens opened up over Valencia city, in conjunction to the torrential rains in surrounding villages in the Turia (plains around the city) region. On the morning of Sunday 13 October, Las Provincias newspaper noted that the outlying towns of Lliria, Segorbe, Chelva, Requena and Buñol had received rainfall of 500 millimetres in only two days. The Barranco del Carraixet and Palancia rivers north of the city, and the Magre river to the south, along with the Turia river through than ran Valencia city had all risen, but said there was no reason to worry. The rain began to die down in the city, and by late evening, had stopped completely. What the people of Valencia didn’t know was the immense torrent that was gushing its way down the Turia river towards them.

At around 9.30pm, an emergency call came through from the towns of Pedralba and Vilamarxant, 40 kilometres from Valencia, announcing that both towns had been flooded by a deluge of water as the river swelled beyond breaking point. At 11pm, an alarm sounded in the city, notifying all Guardia Civil and Police to be on alert, as the flood was heading directly towards the populated city.

Just after midnight, with the absence of rain, the river continued to swell, and logs and debris began floating through the city, blocking the bridges that connected the two sides of Valencia. Alarms sounded to alert people, and messengers knocked on doors in the El Carmen and Campanar areas, both the closest barrios on each side of the river’s edge. Radio messages went out with a flurry as police rushed to warn people of impending water. Soon after, the first waves began crashing over the edge of the riverbed, instantly flooding the flat streets on both sides, just as the torrential rains returned. In one hour, the water height pouring against the central city was between one to two metres and rising, cutting people off from any escape in the dark. More than 1000 cubic metes of water per second flowed into the streets, reaching over two metres in some areas. The Manises Dam at the edge of the city rose to seven metres above normal height as the river tripled its width and swallowed up much of the city and surrounding area. All water, power and phone connections were swamped and collapsed under the water. Reports say manhole covers exploded into the air followed by a violent shot of muddy water as the water took the city one street at a time.

ciudadinundada-1(If you don’t speak Spanish – blue: river, green: populated flooded farming areas, purple: city/town flooded, grey: not flooded populated areas. Notice the tiny safe area in the centre of the disaster zone?)

In the centre of the old town lies the Plaza de la Virgen and Plaza de la Reina, where today stands the Valencia cathedral,  the Basilica and the archbishop’s palace just behind them. Along with Calle Micalet, this tiny pocket was once home to a mosque and before that a Roman city. This area is built on the slightest, and almost impossible to see, ridge in the land, resulting in these treasures not getting any water and instead were surrounded. (Coincidentally, in my novel, the main character lives one street over from Calle Micalet in this magical pocket of space, but don’t be fooled into thinking they are all going to be safe – you know I don’t write happy endings!)

At 4am, the flood reached its peak of approximately 2,700 cubic metres of water per second, but then quickly tapered off. As the sun rose on Monday October 14, the water continued to decrease and the Manises dam was no longer inundated. From the peak of around eight metres above average to only two metres at the dam, Valencians thought the worst was over. A single telephone line to Castellon in the north remained, so emergency services could get word to Madrid, calling for help. All roads and rail lines leading out of the city towards Madrid, Barcelona and Albacete were blocked, damaged or completely swept away. Many of the bridges that crossed the Turia were damaged or destroyed, along with the beautiful stonework that lined the river one day earlier.

riada10As people ventured out into the water and mud-filled streets, the government received a message around midday that things were about to get worse. The towns of Pedralba to Vilamarxant had again been inundated with a second flood, washing away all landmarks. The water took two hours to reach Valencia city, with 3,500 cubic meters of water per second hitting around 2pm, accompanied by the worst downpour of rain yet seen; around 100 millimetres in just half an hour, enough that people couldn’t even see in front of them. By 3.30pm, the flood reached its peak of around 6,000 cubic metres of water per second, enough to start washing away buildings that had been weakened in the first flood. The river had expanded to cover 2,200 hectares. While Valencia city gave many the luxury of multi-story buildings to find shelter above the water line, which rose between two to five metres above street level in places, the more outlying areas by the beach and port, including the towns of Nazaret, El Cabanyal and Malvarrosa at the mouth of the river, were on flat land and single level buildings, resulting in a complete catastrophe and loss of life as the water poured into the sea. Only five bridges, the longest-standing stone ones, remained in place, though some were damaged and impassable. The worst had finally passed, and the riverbed emptied out into silence again. The final death toll was recorded as 81, though the actual figure remains unknown, but commonly thought around 400.

riada07In the coming days, the army came in by truck and helicopter, bringing up to 500,000 kilos of bread to feed stricken residents. Many needed to be airlifted from rooftops and isolated pockets of dry land as the water receded. Much of the city, port and beach areas were filled with a heavy mud and debris, resulting in a ‘on hands on deck’ response from army and locals alike to clean up. On October 24, dictator Francisco Franco arrived (when much was cleaned already, of course) to survey the damage and have his loyal (oppressed, whatever) subjects cheer for him for coming to the disaster zone. As people lived on bread brought north from Gandia and milk given out by the ladle-load, the long process of rebuilding began. The mud was not completely cleaned away until the end of November.

In June 1958, the outlying port and beach areas suffered a second minor flood, as their drains were still clogged with mud, and the following month ‘Plan Sur’ began, a project to divert the river. The plan had initially been designed over a decade earlier but sidelined due to excessiveness (which is ironic considering the ‘excessiveness’ of everything the Valencian government spends money on). A plan to build an enormous green space in the city was put up against building a huge highway to get people from Madrid to the beach a fraction faster. In 1965 construction began to divert the river south of the city, resulting in water flowing around the city for the first time in 1972. At the same time, land cleared by the flood on the other side of the river from the old town was used to create many new buildings, mostly apartments, giving Valencia a construction boom (that’s a whole other tale). The flood had accidentally given Valencia a whole new chapter in its story, already thousands of years old. (I have never seen any water in the river diversion, other than the tiny part where the sea flows into the river mouth. If you have a photo of the Plan Sur river diversion (any year) with water in it, I would love to see it).

Here is a short clip (in Spanish) made as they designed Plan Sur in the 60’s, with some aerial shots of Valencia if you’re so inclined.

In 1976, on his first visit to Valencia as head of State, King Juan Carlos I gifted the dry riverbed to the city, and the highway plan was shelved forever; the seven kilometre park won its place in Valencia’s history. Construction on the final part of the Turia riverbed park continues today, with most of the park now complete. The ‘top’ of the park has Valencia’s zoo, the Bioparc, and footpaths and bike lanes weave though gardens, streams, sports fields, playgrounds to the other end, home to Valencia’s massive Arts and Sciences complex. The final part, where the old riverbed meets the sea is all-but completed.

While Valencia is an amazing city, the park is the jewel in the crown.

This is a tourism video was taken a few years ago, but shows Valencia from the air, over the park and areas rebuilt after the flood, plus many of the great sights you can read about in my books.


All photos in 1957 are courtesy of Juan Antonio Soler Aces.

13 September 1974: The Bombing of Cafetería Rolando

2014 is the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Cafetería Rolando in Madrid. The attack was a significant event in the fight against Francoism and a defining moment in the ETA’s struggle for independence. I first learned about Cafetería Rolando several years ago, and it forms part of my upcoming book, Death in Valencian Dust. In posting this, I do not endorse either side of the ETA struggle, merely recognise the struggle Spain suffered in the 1970’s.

In 1974, to say Spain was at a crossroads would be an understatement. In December 1973, Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, Spain’s Government President was assassinated by ETA (Basque – Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, Spanish – País Vasco y Libertad, English – Basque Homeland and Freedom), the Basque Country separatist group. For years, ETA had been carrying out attacks and killings around Spain, while other groups started to rise up against the government. In 1974, new Government President Carlos Arias Navarro set up new rules during the spirit of 12 February, keeping in line with Franco’s harsh regime of times past, covering everything from stopping freedom of the press, restriction to the judicial systems, harsh penalties for strikers and protesters, and generally restricting the lives of everyone in the country, everyone outside the búnker, the group of extreme right-wing people surrounding Franco.

The state of the nation deteriorated throughout the year – the church increasingly voiced their opposition to Franco and the regime, the execution of anarchist Catalan Salvador Puig Antich brought people to the streets in protest, the economy slumped, the Communist party mobilised in defense of their sympathisers, workers continued to strike, and universities protested the new draconian laws. Franco himself was seriously ill, and Juan Carlos, his protegé, was taking over all tasks on his behalf. The Portuguese dictatorship collapsed, giving Spaniards more ideas of what they could achieve for themselves. On September 11, 1974, Arias Navarro re-endorsed his changes and announced efforts would double to enforce new laws over the rising tide of anger.

Cafetería Rolando, at 4 Calle del Correos (known as E street), was located in the heart of Madrid, directly off Puerta de Sol. Cafetería Rolando was a large and popular cafe, the local spot for police to visit during their lunch breaks, conveniently located beside the headquarters of the Dirección General de Seguridad (General Directorate of Security) in the famous Real Casa de Correos building. The Dirección General de Seguridad was considered an impenetrable target by ETA and other organisations keen to bring down the regime. Because nearby Cafetería Rolando was so popular with police working nearby, the place became destined for disaster.

 Real Casa de Correos (Cafetería Rolando was to the right of this shot) – Source

On September 13, 1974, at 2.35pm, during a busy lunchtime, a bomb exploded at the entrance to the cafe. The bomb, thirty kilos of dynamite filled with nuts for shrapnel, went off as many enjoyed their lunch, and was large enough to cause serious structural damage to the five-storey building. The ceiling of the café collapsed, resulting in several of the hostel guests upstairs falling into the café. The blast was big enough to shatter the windows of the Real Casa de Correos across the tiny street and several cars were obliterated. Another restaurant, a large place with 300 seated guests next door, was also seriously damaged.

Because of the proximity to the security building, police were on the scene immediately, and the process of saving Cafetería Rolando diners began. An attack of this magnitude, on a place frequented by everyday people, hadn’t been undertaken since the Civil War, catching all by surprise. Seventy-one people were pulled alive from the rubble, several children. Most victims made a full recovery, though several were left with scarring and mutilation. In total, twelve people were killed, aged from 20 to 78 years old, including a just-married couple. Several café workers were killed, including one who was pulled alive from the rubble but died before surgery. While the attack was allegedly against the police, and several wounded were police and from Franco’s elite special forces, the rest killed were all civilians. A thirteenth victim, a police officer, died two years later from the attack, unable to survive the injuries he sustained.


The list of the dead only fueled speculation of the bombing. As no police officers were listed among the dead, a theory sprang up that a division of the extreme right themselves planted the bomb. Police earlier that day had been told to avoid the café, but these rumours were never directly admitted. Franco was keen to catch whomever had committed the act, while others, both for and against the government, took the opportunity to criticise the regime, plus Arias Navarro himself, and the búnker, the powerful political families. Everyone had an agenda for establishing blame. The Communist party became a popular target for criticism, initially blamed for the events.

Soon, blame fell on ETA from the Basque Country. They had been killing policemen and guards sporadically since 1968, one just days before the bombing. ETA denied any knowledge of the Cafetería Rolando attack, though throughout Spain, the denial wasn’t taken seriously. Because of the high number of killed and wounded were merely civilians at lunch, both sides of the political fence wanted to see justice done. The assassination of Carrero Blanco less than a year earlier didn’t raise tempers, but the attack on the café brought ETA’s organisation more into the spotlight than ever before.

Famous Basque activist, writer, women rights campaigner and ETA supporter Eva Forest was arrested along with her husband, though her husband was soon released. Forest refused to co-operate and accused the police of ill-treatment during her detainment. It was alleged two Basques, a man and a woman, planted the bomb in Cafetería Rolando, sticking the bomb to the underside of a table, and set off the timer. The identity of those two Basques were never established. It could have been Forest and her husband, playwright Alfonso Sastre, but there was no proof. While many detained in connection to Cafetería Rolando and the Carrero Blanco assassination were released, Forest was kept in prison until 1977, when all political prisoners accused under the Franco regime were given amnesty, to smooth the way for democracy under the new King Juan Carlos. It was rumoured that Forest suffered terribly being in jail, being tortured for all her acts over the years. While Forest admitted to passing on ETA messages and helping with safe houses, she never admitted her part in the Rolando bombing, despite admissions from others in the plot. 

Because of the 1977 amnesty, no one was ever held accountable for the Cafetería Rolando bombing, and no one can never be convicted of any crime relating to the incident.

Calle del Correo today – Source

Victims of Cafetería Rolando 13 September 1974

Antonio Alonso Palacín, mechanic, and his new wife, María Jesús Arcos Tirado, telephone operator aged 28

Francisca Baeza Alarcón, teacher aged 45

Baldomero Barral Fernández, baker aged 24, and his wife María Josefina Pérez Martínez, mother of two aged 21

Antonio Lobo Aguado, railway worker aged 55

Luis Martínez Marín, businessman aged 78

Concepción Pérez Paino, Dirección General de Seguridad admin worker aged 65

María Ángeles Rey Martínez, student aged 20

Gerardo García Pérez, married father of three

Francisco Gómez Vaquero, Cafetería Rolando chef aged 31 

Manuel Llanos Gancedo, waiter at Cafetería Rolando aged 26

Félix Ayuso Pinel, police inspector aged 46. Pinel didn’t die until 1977.



 Here is a link to the news footage of the bombing in 1974 – Atentado etarra en la calle madrileña del Correo (1974)

Help and Hear a Writer about Spain/Ayuda a un escritor sobre España


Off I go again, time to write another book. In fact, I have three projects on the go at the moment, but it’s time to knuckle down and finish (read: start) Death in the Valencian Dust. This project was planned and researched long ago, and now it’s time to start the first draft of this story, the third book in the Secrets of Spain series. Even though I have all this well in hand, I am putting out a request for assistance for any of the following –

Any photos of Valencia and Madrid in 1975 – people, buildings, anything big or small

Newspaper articles relating to ETA in 1975

Coverage of Franco’s death in 1975

Any tidbit in relation to the assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco in 1973

Pretty much anything about the Movimiento Nacional

Bullfighting photographs from the late 60’s and through the 70’s

The execution of Catalan anarchist Salvador Puig Antich in 1974

Any piece of information is useful, no matter how simple. While I have already been studying all these subjects, sometimes the most helpful tips come from others. Be it a photo, link to an article, either one or one hundred pages long, anything would be much appreciated from all the fine Spain lovers out there. Everyone who helps will of course be acknowledged in the book.

I get asked often how the process of booking writing goes. I can only speak for myself, so throughout this book I will be tweeting each day I work, and what I managed to achieve (or not achieve). I will use the hashtag #ValencianDust in my tweets (even if just so I can keep track of my own progress!). I will start tomorrow, September 8, day 1 of the project. I was meant to start last week but an emergency situation got in the way. Let’s see if I can start on a high, since I am also starting my Spanish language studies again (God knows my nerves when speaking Spanish hinder my ability to ever progress).

Thank you!

Tiempo para escribir otro libro. De hecho, tengo tres proyectos en marcha en este momento, pero es hora de que los nudillos hacia abajo y acabado  Muerte en el polvo Valenciana. Me estoy poniendo a cabo una solicitud de asistencia por cualquier de los siguientes –

Las fotos de Valencia y Madrid en 1975 – las personas, edificios, cualquier

Los artículos de prensa relacionados con ETA en 1975

La cobertura de la muerte de Franco en 1975

Cualquier dato en relación con el asesinato de Luis Carrero Blanco en 1973

Casi cualquier cosa sobre el Movimiento Nacional

Tauromaquia fotografías de los años 60 e 70

La ejecución del anarquista catalán Salvador Puig Antich en 1974

Cualquier pieza de información es útil, no importa cuán simple. he estado estudiando todos estos temas, a veces los consejos más útiles provienen de otros. Ya sea una foto, enlace a un artículo, ya sea uno o cien páginas, nada sería muy apreciada. Todo el que ayuda, por supuesto, ser reconocido en el libro.