Dolores, Catral, San Fulgencio. These are just some of the areas that have been flooded in southern Spain in recent weeks, yet nobody knows about it. The areas that are most affected may not be well known to many, but what if I told you that all these areas are just over an hour away from Benidorm. And I know that Benidorm is a place you’ve definitely heard of.
Like many other people I had no idea what was happening but when I found out it scared me. My grandmother Nadine Scott and some of my friends live in these areas and I became worried when I couldn’t contact them. No texts, no calls nothing and I knew something wasn’t right.
Finally, after a few days of worrying, we had a phone call from my Nan. The storms had cut off her electricity and her Wifi and the whole of her urbanisation had been marooned as an island because of the flood water. To say we were relieved that she was okay is an understatement. But then a question crossed my mind, why didn’t we see anything on the news? If it wasn’t for my Nan and my friends living there, I would never have known.
We found out that the Spanish Met office gave a red alert issue a few days before the storm, which is a rare occurrence in Spain. The first lot of rain, on Thursday the 12th of September, lasted two to three hours and lightning lit up the streets in the middle of the nights. Multiple schools shut down and a tornado happened at five in the morning. They had seven years’ worth of rain in just three days. Hard to imagine this happening in Spain isn’t it? All this going on in mid-September whilst British tourists soak up the Spanish sun just an hour away in Benidorm.
I travelled over to Spain to visit my Nan and to see for myself the damage these floods had caused. Local farm lands were destroyed, 751 animals were found drowned in Dolores alone, seven people died, over 4,000 people were evacuated (150 in San Fulgencio close to my Nan) and eventually the military had to get involved to help with the relief effort after people were stranded in their homes. Debris wrecked local areas and covered the streets. Flights were diverted from Alicante airport because it wasn’t safe enough and beaches were closed down due to contaminated water because of all the dead animals. A disaster this big and yet the majority of the British media did not report on it.
During my time there, in urbanisation La Marina, I paid a visit to their tourist office and spoke with local councillor Darren Parmenter. I wanted some cold hard facts about the flooding so I could write this article and hopefully try and raise some awareness in the UK about what had been going on.
Upon meeting Darren and discussing the storm, I quickly realised the severity of it. “My 85-year-old mother said the only way she could describe the lightning was that it was like the blitz”. That statement alone says it all.
“This office was closed but I was in contact with the other councillor Samantha (Hull Gallon) and she was saying it’s not looking good down in San Fulgencio Village; we’re probably going to have to evacuate a lot of people” Darren tells me. “The evacuated people were taken to a school, but then there was the issue that they needed food and water. Luckily, we had a call from one of the bars on the urbanisation, the Final Whistle Sports bar and they offered their services as a food bank”.
This phone call was the starting point of what was to become a massive community effort to help the victims of the flood, a community effort that Darren explains is what he thought would’ve gotten the attention of the UK press.
“The police at the time couldn’t get to us so people volunteered, risking their own lives to get food to us” Darren explains “There was such a tremendous community spirit, I expected more coverage of the aftermath, the humanitarian effort is something I would’ve thought they should’ve been interested in”. ‘They’ being the UK media.
A total of 80 people was relocated on the urb and with the new temporary food bank operating actively, they now needed mattresses for flood victims to sleep on until they could return home. After another Facebook appeal, 48 mattresses were obtained.
A month on from the storm, and Spain is slowly recovering from the devastation. Many have volunteered to help the police and military in the relief effort. “Everyone has said how wonderful the emergency services have been, there hasn’t been a single complaint about how they operated and their professionalism” Darren states. Throughout this interview, he continues to praise the emergency services as well as the numerous volunteers.
Even though all but three families have been able to return to their homes, the people are still recovering. 100% of the crops of the Vega Baja area, one of the worst affected areas, were lost. 500 million euros worth of business has been lost. In Orihuela alone, around 80% of the businesses were affected. This figure still continues to increase. Things are that serious that the Spanish president and the Spanish King and Queen have visited the city of Orihuela. Orihuela is just an hour and nine minutes away from Benidorm.
“People see a dark cloud and start to panic; they don’t want to see rain ever again”.
To close the interview, I ask Darren in all his years of living in Spain, has he ever seen anything like it? He answers “Never”.
So, if you’re planning a holiday or a weekend away in Benidorm for October half term holidays, spare a thought for the people who live just over an hour away. People who have lost their homes, all of their belongings and for some unfortunate people, they’ve lost loved ones. Everybody associates Spain with the sea, sun and relaxation, but even in Spain, real disasters can happen.