‘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.

riada1

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

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

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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.

Gracias!

PART 3: ‘Luminous Colours of Dusk’ Author Q+A

When I put out the call for questions ahead of my Luminous Colours of Dusk book release, inevitably there would be questions about Spain and my books based there. So, here is a Q&A section dedicated to my Secrets of Spain series.

Why write about books based in Spain?

That is a good question. I’m a New Zealander, a baby country with a small but interesting history. To write the story of my family coming out to this pioneering nation from Scotland and Ireland would make a great tale. But when I moved to Spain, the place spoke to me, as it has spoken to so many foreigners over time. I feel a personal connection to the struggles of the country, and the history and politics speaks to me better than my home country. (Though, since it’s election time in New Zealand, I’m pretty outspoken at the moment). You can find a 1001 books based in Madrid, Barcelona, or anywhere in southern Spain, but Valencia sits outside the spotlight. You only have to visit the city to understand how unique it is, and to me, the perfect setting to write books. The history of the place gives so many exciting possibilities.

Why write about the Spanish civil war?

There is no war like the Spanish civil war. There was no one side versus another, rather factions coming together, struggling against the enemy and one another. Nothing is as vicious as a civil war, yet other nations weighed in, while some stayed on the sidelines with their own agendas. Volunteers came to fight and changed the course of the war. While one side defeated the other, and evil won the war, some believe the outcome was a good one. There were no winners in Spain, and the wounds are not fully healed. The multiple facets are what drives my interest.

Out of your Spanish books, who is your favorite character?

Tough question! Luna Montgomery was the first character I ever created, but she has a great supporting cast in Blood in the Valencian Soil and Vengeance in the Valencian Water. I have always enjoyed writing Paco Beltrán, patriarch of the Beltrán Morales bullfighting family. He played a good role in both books, and has a big space in the third book, Death in the Valencian Dust. As evil as he was, I enjoyed also writing José Morales. His transformation from conflicted young officer to evil Francoist was a joy to undertake. I know a lot of people found him hard to stomach, but some really liked him. Scarlett Montgomery was a great character for me, as she was based on a real life New Zealand nurse who defied her country and went to the civil war.

How much research do you do for your Spain-based books?

I lost count of the hours spent researching years ago. I never stop researching – everyday conversations with Spain lovers help me. Even tiny comments can come in handy for minor details. I can often sit down and need a basic piece of info for a chapter and spend all day reading, long forgetting the original point I needed. One day I sat down at my desk at just after 9am, needed a detail on where a bus stop was in 1957, and then my alarm rang to stop writing at 2.45. Somehow, the whole day had disappeared. I never know where I will find helpful information. Between all the books and websites I use, I can be buried in info, much like my desk is. I can’t actually see my desk under all the stuff I have piled up ahead of my next book on Valencia.

I am lucky to be part of #wabas – Writers and Bloggers about Spain. The members are kind enough to let me be part of their group and I can absorb all kinds of information from them, so thanks!

What will the next Luna Montgomery book be about?

(I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible for readers still on books one and two)

Death in the Valencian Dust is another double timeline story, split between 1975 and 2014. At the end of the second book, Cayetano Beltrán asks his uncle Jaime about the time he went to prison in Valencia in 1975. It is centred around the time when Franco dies and King Juan Carlos takes over, and the upheaval Jaime goes through thanks to some dodgy dealings in Valencia. The 2014 timeline sees Cayetano at age 45, facing retirement from bullfighting, while Luna’s life is going in a very different direction. Cayetano is struggling with Luna’s rising career and ambitions while the sun sets on all he has ever known. The Beltrán Morales family has undergone a major upheaval since we saw them in 2010 (cant tell yet!), and in the shadow of King Juan Carlos retiring, they reflect on their family and the loss of all the traditional Spanish ideals they have previously enjoyed.

Have you ever had the desire for Luna Montgomery and Darren James to become a couple?

Pro-cyclist Darren James will be in the third book very prominently, and still rubbing Cayetano Beltrán up the wrong way. The men will find common ground with the changes in their lives and careers, but they are an uneasy alliance with Luna endlessly caught in the middle. Have I had the desire to have Luna and Darren as a couple? Yeah, I have thought about it. There is a lot of logic in a pairing like them. The third book isn’t out yet…

How do you feel about reviews of the series? Do you seek out reviews?

I’m not really comfortable with asking for book reviews. I am pretty happy with the reviews I have received, and get nice little messages via twitter regularly from people who are reading. I write a niche subject so it is easy to get lost in the crush of millions of books to read. I am meticulous with my planning of the series, and that satisfies me personally.

Of all the people you have killed in the series, which was the hardest?

SPOILER ALERT – you may want to skip this bit if you are not finished the books

I have always felt bad about killing Alejandro Beltrán. To me, it was an awful way to die and I feel sorry for writing it. Cayetano Ortega was a tough character to kill as well. In fact, everyone from the first book in the 1939 timeline met a sad end.

Do you have a book planned, away from the Secrets of Spain series?

I do, my long suffering novel based in Spanish civil war slowly continues to grow in size. The book starts in Barcelona 1937 and progresses throughout much of the war, based mostly among the fighting of Madrid, Barcelona and Teruel (and surrounding areas). That will be released after Death in the Valencian Dust, with all new characters from me. The characters are fictional, based on real accounts, and set to the real timeline and outcomes of the war itself.

Do you use social media much for book promotion?

It was be impossible to work without social media, though I have placed a ban on using it on my computer, or I never get any work done. I have broken my bad social media habits. In saying that, you can always catch up with me. Twitter is my preferred medium, much more than Facebook. You can find me –

Website: here obviously carolineangusbaker.com

Facebook: Caroline Angus Baker (subscribe, since I make many public posts)

Twitter: Writer_Caroline

Pinterest: WriterCaroline

Tumblr: Duende Lover

Google+ : Caroline Angus Baker

Book Links:

US – Caroline Angus Baker

UK  – Caroline Angus Baker

New Zealand (paperback only) Caroline Angus Baker 

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Part 4 is all the questions about writing, and Part 5 is the first chapter of Luminous Colours of Dusk. Also, there will be a free promotion on Night Wants to Forget and Violent Daylight. Details will in Part 4.

Click here for Part 1 – all about Canna Medici – PART 1: ‘Luminous Colours of Dusk’ Author Q+A

Click here for Part 2 – all about me – PART 2: ‘Luminous Colours of Dusk’ Author Q+A