‘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.

Valencia Photos of the Month: Palacio Ripalda

After doing a well-known landmark in the last installment, this week is an iconic Valencian scene that was wiped from the earth in a moment of a politician’s stupidity. Not sure which one? Palacio Ripalda, which would sit on the north side of the Turia over the Pont del Real bridge, had the castle not met its demise.

In 1889, María Josefa de la Peña Paulín, the Countess of Ripalda, commissioned a palace from architect Joaquín María Arnau Miramon, on Paseo de la Alameda, over the river from the central city of Valencia. The design copied French chateaus, unseen in Valencia, and construction was complete in 1891. The castle mimicked the rise and fall of the family who had her built.

The tale starts with the story of  José Joaquín Ramón Sánchez Agulló de Bellmont y Ripalda, Count of Ripalda, a member of a rich ancient family who had owned many properties through the Valencian province. As typical in Spain and its feudal system, the family had a noble title and was super rich for centuries, and lorded over property here, there and everywhere. The family had streets, suburbs, walkways and lands named after them wherever they owned property. The Count was a fine arts lover and was president of the Royal Academy of San Carlos from 1860 until 1868. He also worked for the Real Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País (Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Country).  In 1863 when the International Red Cross was founded in Geneva, Ripalda was Spain’s representative and was also a conservative MP in Valencia. He went to be the president of the Red Cross in Spain, and generally lived a happy, rich lifestyle.

In 1876, Count Ripalda died, his French-Spanish aristocracy wife, Countess Maria Josefa inherited his fortune and property. She set to building the Passatge Ripalda (off Calle San Vicente), an alleyway of shops in a new European style. Apartments were built around the passage, giving it an arcade feel and led out onto Plaza Pelota (now Calle Moratín). She also commissioned a grand hotel, home to Valencia’s first elevator. But the big project came when the Countess decided to build a grand family home on the farmlands on the edge of Valencia city, next to the Jardines del Real (Royal Gardens) and along Paseo de la Alameda, the road against the edge of the river. After multiple drawings and changes with her architect, Joaquín María Arnau Miramón (who also did Passatge Ripalda, and was said to have an ‘intense professional relationship’ with the Countess, make of that what you will), the project went over budget but was completed to the Countess’ whims. The Countess didn’t live long after her castle was completed, but had enough time to fill the place with fine furnishings and artworks, all of which disappeared over time.

The castle belonged to the next Countess, but when Valencia became the capital of Spain during the civil war, Palacio Ripalda became the headquarters for the Ministry of Commerce. The last Countess died not long after the war was over and with no children, the castle was handed to her nephews, not part of the ancient Ripalda lineage. The royal title has since been renewed when relatives were appointed the Countess and Marquess name.

Palacio Ripalda fell into a state of disrepair, and while the outside facade remained in relatively good condition, the interior was said to have suffered, though this is in dispute. As time went on, and Valencia entered its construction boom of the 1960’s, the castle and its gardens started to get in the way of a new era of the city.

In 1967, as the castle sat unoccupied, Valencian mayor Adolfo Rincón de Arellano wanted to demolish and redesign the trade fair grounds next to the castle as the city expanded. It was quickly decided the castle too had to go. Despite complaints from locals and the press weighing in to save the landmark, with the help of politicians and businessmen getting together for their own gain, the castle was swiftly torn down in the name of progress. Legends started to swirl that the castle would be moved to Florida, where the stones had been sent, to rise up again, though it was more fancy than reality. The castle was torn down 100 years after another idiot spot in Valencia’s history – the tearing down the city walls, which would have made Valencia a (even more) unique location. Time obviously doesn’t stop politicians from making bad decisions.

After the demise of the castle, an apartment building was built, called the Pagoda, which isn’t exactly pleasing to the eye (though the apartments inside are nice and simple enough, I suppose). The Monforte gardens remain behind the complex, a little ode to the palace that once belonged to the regal Ripalda family.

Historical photos courtesy of Valencia Historia Grafica 

Valencia Photos of the Month: Las Fallas

Everyone knows all about Las Fallas – started in the middle ages to celebrate the coming of spring. You don’t know? Here’s a one-minute recap.

Workshops would through the woodchips etc out on the street during March, along with anything else they didn’t want, and would burn it. Over time, these fires became more artistic, leading to statues representing people and events, which could be set on fire as spring emerged. Now, the city celebrates big style, starting at 8am with bands and fireworks to wake up the city, called La Despertà. Each day for the 19 days of the fiestas, the 2pm Mascletà lets off an insane amount of fireworks for all to enjoy (see below video for a demo). After 15 days of gunpowder, bands and parades, the statues are brought out, the La Plantà, when about 400 statues are placed around the city, cutting off the streets to everything except enjoying the fallas and festivities with paella, churros, chestnuts, beverages and pretty much anything you like. One the party nights of the 15,16,17 and 18, you can enjoy the Els Castells and La Nit del Foc, riverbed fireworks, the L’Ofrena de flors, the flower offering (17/18March) in Plaza de la Virgen,  plus streets parties and meals shared by neighbourhoods. On the 19th is the Cabalgata del Fuego, with parades, fireworks and snacks before the midnight Cremà, where all the statues are burned to dust, including the ones judged as the best of the competition (one is saved for display). The party goes all day and night for 19 days, and men can wear traditional Saragüells outfits, while women enjoy fallera dresses, and being voted in as a fallera girl, and participating in parades, fireworks displays etc is a big deal and excellent to enjoy during the fiesta. There, basic recap done.

But this isn’t a history lesson, this is the photo of the week. Here are a few examples of fallas statues over the past 100 years, next today’s offerings (plus videos at the bottom to enjoy and learn a bit more in a short time).

All about Las Fallas

La Cremà

La Mascletà

Historical photos by Juan Antonio Soler Aces, and current photos by Caroline Angus Baker and Graham Hunt at Valencia Property

Part 4: Vengeance in the Valencian Water: Photo Tour

Sit back and take in many scenes featured in the upcoming novel Vengeance in the Valencian Water, out January 24. Since the book is brand new, I can’t go into detail about what will happen in each scene featured here (no spoilers allowed), but it gives readers a chance to see just what the areas in Valencia and Madrid look like. Enjoy!

(Spanish spellings have been used, rather than Valencian, for street names. Because Valencian was banned under Franco, the book uses Spanish names for consistency, unless otherwise stated)


Valencia – Plaza del temple 50’s, and Plaza Poete Llorante 2013, side by side locations and major book scenes in 1957


Valencia – Town Hall building Plaza Ayuntamiento 2013, and (same place) Plaza del Caudillo 1957, including snow in the winter. The location featured heavily in the 1957 story


Old town Valencia new and old, all major book scenes in both 1957 and 2010


Valencia – Arts and Sciences area where Luna Montgomery lives,  1950’s and today

Calle Reloj Viejo
Calle Reloj Viejo

Calle de Reloj Viejo/ Carrer del Rellotge Vell, where José lives in 1957


Bullrings in both Madrid and Valencia, scenes of fights by Cayetano Beltrán in 2010


Valencia beaches 1957 and 2010


Calle Pechina, site of the old prison (featured in 1957 storyline)


Scenes from Madrid frequented by Luna Montgomery


Valencia bridges and riverbed, all featured heavily in both 1957 and 2010 storylines


Valencia March celebrations during Las Fallas


Cuenca cathedral, home to another huge scene, the same as in Blood in the Valencian Soil

Part 5 of the Vengeance in the Valencian Water series will be on January 24, the same day as the book release. The post will feature the whole first chapter, which is set in 1957 and can be read for free. Also, Blood in the Valencian Soil will be free on Amazon for three days only, to coincide with the release of Vengeance in the Valencian Water, so you can grab both book in the series to enjoy.

Click here for Part 1Part 2 and Part 3, featuring all the replies to the recent Q+A session.

All present day photos are author’s own, and 1957 photos are courtesy of Juan Antonio Soler Aces 

PART 3: Vengeance in the Valencian Water Q+A

Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2

Here is the final part of the VITVW questions. I have put questions together to answer as many as possible. If yours was missed, let me know in the comments section.

11 ) Did you learn anything new about writing while working on Vengeance in the Valencian Water? Did you enjoy writing this book? Would you change anything about your books?

I learned plenty once again. My last novel release was only five months ago, but I feel like I learned so much about editing in that tiny space of time. I feel like the quality has stepped up another level. Because the time it took to write this book became a mess due to illness, I had to stay on task, and I learned I can write a lot of a short space of time if I make the effort. If I needed to have a chapter done start to finish in a couple of hours, I can do that. Doing 5000 words a day doesn’t feel like a big deal.

I have two individual book series and they are very different to each other, and flipping between the two wasn’t as hard as last time I swapped between them. I finished Violent Daylight and felt ready to finish VITVW once and for all. Now it’s done, I can go and work on Luminous Colours of Dusk without any trouble. Because I feel happy with the product, can I put it to bed and move on without any worries. Swapping between Night Wants to Forget and Blood in the Valencian Soil was harder because the first edition of NWTF never made me happy.

The other thing I learned is that you need to have several proofreaders. Everyone puts their hands up to volunteer to proofread, but then bow out when they see the level of reading involved. It makes perfect sense, since the world is a busy place, so always get a few extra readers, just in case. Big thanks to Sue Sharpe, who volunteered to painstakingly edit the book, and to Mary Mixon who proofread the entire book in a really short space of time. I wouldn’t change a thing!


Tip to looker thinner than you are on research trips – stand in a giant room filled with fat pillars

12 ) What did you mean when you wrote on Twitter – ‘I hope I don’t sound like a Franco sympathiser in my next book’? Why do you write about Franco? Is it possible to be objective about Franco?

Eek – Franco questions. It instantly remind me of the troll who told me I was liar and Franco is a hero and a genius. That really happened.

If you have read the first book in the series, you won’t be confused about where my political alliances lie – I am an unashamed leftie. Writing a story about a group of anarchists in the Spanish civil war didn’t produce any trouble for me – the desire for freedom,  rights for the working class and equality for women appeal to everything I stand for. Of course, the two families in the series come from different angles – one Republican anarchists and one Nationalists heavily in favour of Franco. In VITVW, the story learns more about the Morales family and their Franco and religious leanings. What I know is that people on either side of the divide believe in their ideals without question, so I wrote a family who believe Franco was a hero. It’s not my personal belief, and there are plenty of lines in the book which go against what I think is true. Remember it’s not the final book in the series, so it will swing back to my beliefs more in the next book. What’s the point of writing the series if I don’t explore both sides? I am not endorsing Franco at all, the book does not even attempt to do that, and I still dislike religion as much as ever.


I may take photos of this Falange loving weirdness, but I don’t support it

13 ) Will this book be hard to read if I don’t know anything about the history of Spain? Is this book for Spain lovers? I have never been to Spain, will this book to be complicated?

I hope not! This is not a true story; it’s not a set of facts. VITVW is a novel, first and foremost. While I stuck to reality in terms of the timelines, the people are completely fictional. Are there groups of Franco lovers out there, ready to praise the man? You bet there are (they are called the Spanish government… I’m kidding… but not really…), I spoke to Franco lovers personally. Headlines used in the Valencian papers are close to reality, but the characters are fictional when looking for their stolen babies, and you don’t need to already know the background of the baby stealing process of the Franco era – everything you need to understand in the story is included. Likewise with the 2010 drugs in cycling scandal – everything you need to know to understand it is there.

14) Tell us a few things about you that we don’t know about you. Is your online persona the same as your real-life persona? 

Jaja, my online persona is probably way cooler than real life. In saying that, I am a snappy dresser (I wish) and get into some funny situations. Things you might not know –

I like radishes

I get so seasick that my backyard hammock is even off-limits unless I take my seasickness pills

My homemade salad dressing is made with condensed milk

I scuff the toes of every pair of shoes I own

I climbed onto a railway line when a train hit a car (first on the scene) when I was only 13. Only two of the six car occupants survived. It was as bad as you could imagine. Only two years later I dealt with my step-brother’s body being fished from a river.

I’ve never understood why some women say they feel threatened by other women. I’ve never felt threatened. Am I the threatening one?

I once cried at a Spanish supermarket

My parents both got terminal cancer in their 50’s, which taught me to never hold back – dreams, words, goals; there is no extra time, now is the time to get out there

When I was 17, I carried around a Volvo Ocean Race magazine everywhere I went – I ended up getting work on sails for a team

As a child, I was pulled from classes to take part in a special writing course. The teacher said I had terrific storyline ideas, but I would never be smart enough to write a book

My best friend is my brother who sadly lives in Australia (upside – epic holidays together)

I feel like the last stay-at-home mother left in New Zealand


I was a show-off in 1982 (and a natural blonde! Shh…)

15 ) What else are you writing?

The inevitable question. I will go back to finishing Luminous Colours of Dusk, the third and possibly last book in the Canna Medici series. I’m not sure I could live without Canna! Another book high on the agenda is my novel based in Barcelona, about the glory and demise of the Republican ideals in the civil war. The pressure to get historical detail correct is massive, and the book is a challenge. I do little bouts of writing and researching at a time, rather than taking on the project full-time, because I’m just not ready. I will have to return to Barcelona for a second research trip in the near future. Of course there with be the third novel in the Luna Montgomery series, Death in the Valencian Dust, which will take a lot of work. I also have a book about cheating on someone with cancer, a book about being a pioneer moving to New Zealand in the late 1800’s, and an Australian gold rush story to flesh out. Those six should keep me busy for the rest of the decade, and I’m sure more will come to mind.

Upcoming cover art

Up next is Part 4 of VITVW, photos and locations used in the book. Part 5 will have the first chapter free to read on January 2014, book release day.

Click here to



Since the Blood in the Valencian Soil giveaway went so well, I might sneak in another one before Vengeance in the Valencian Water is released.