‘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.

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FREE BOOKS THIS WEEK!

I think we can all agree it has been a tough week (month… year…), so how about some free books?

For three days, all of my titles will be free across all Amazon sites worldwide in Kindle form. The whole Canna Medici mystery series, the whole Secrets of Spain series about the Spanish Civil War (including the mammoth three-in-one if you want to grab it as a set) and my most recent release, set in 19th century Valencia.

Never purchased a Kindle/e-book? You are late to the party, but I know there are still some of you out there. No need to have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app on any device for free and the book(s) will also be yours for free.

There is a limit of 1,000 copies of each up for grabs, so if you want Night Wants to Forget, I suggest you get in quick because that particular title always sells out first.

The sale starts at 00:01 Wednesday June 7 and ends at 00:01 Saturday June 10. These times are PST, so check the time zone for your area. (It’s 7pm June 7 in New Zealand, 9am June 7 in Madrid, 3am June 7 in New York, as a reference)

Quick links (all other amazon sites are also eligible) –

A Novel Blog – Part 6: Winning at Life as an Author (+ Free Books!)

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This flyer makes me winning at life, so the librarian tells me

This Saturday, you will be able to track me down in my natural habitat at Botany Library in Auckland. I am giving an author talk (see right sidebar for deets) and anyone is welcome to roll up and throw questions at me (not books, just words – nice words). I’m not one for giving speeches and have no intention of writing a speech, rather I will talk about books, writing, research, reading, reviewing and general Spain-ness. My children have kindly(!) offered to play photographers.

As this is not the kind of thing I normally do (even at smaller gatherings, I tend to shut up, so me, a microphone and an audience is extremely daunting), I have decided to be super fun and coincide the chat with a free book offer. This is a one-time only deal that hasn’t been done, and probably won’t be done in the future. For five days, Thursday 18 until Tuesday 23 June, the Secrets of Spain trilogy, containing Blood in the Valencian Soil, Vengeance in the Valencian Water and Death in the Valencian Dust will be free on Kindle. Feel free to grab your own copy, and by all means, review me, as a trilogy or on any individual book. I want to hear thoughts on my work (no need to be a troll, though, there’s enough of that already).

Secrets of Spain

Check your time zone for the special deal

UTC (GMT) – Thursday 18 June 07:00 until Tuesday 23 June 06:59

Pacific Standard Time – Thursday 18 June 0:01 until Monday 22 June 23:59

New Zealand Standard Time – Thursday 18 June 19:00 until Tuesday 23 June 18:59

European Daylight Savings Time – Thursday 18 June 09:00 until Tuesday 23 June 08:59

Click here for Amazon US

Click here for Amazon UK

Celebrate the release of ‘Death in the Valencian Dust’ with competitions and freebies!

CLICK HERE TO BUY IN PAPERBACK AND ON KINDLE

May 8 sees the release of the third and final installment of the Secrets of Spain series, entitled Death in the Valencian Dust. To celebrate the long-awaited final part of the Beltrán Morales puzzle, there are free books up for grabs!

Spain: September, 1975 – After 39 years as dictator, Francisco Franco is dying, but his parting words to the nation are leaving a bitter legacy. Jaime Morales, brother-in-law and sword handler for Spain’s greatest bullfighter, Paco Beltrán, finds himself caught up with a young Basque woman named Alazne, who seeks political change with plans of violence. Executions are handed down, and Spain collapses into turmoil in the shadow of their leader’s death and the crowning of a new king. Jaime, Alazne and entire Morales family have to face who they are and what they believe…

It’s 2014 and the final season for Spain’s favourite celebrity bullfighter, Cayetano Beltrán Morales. Guided by his father Paco and Uncle Jaime, Cayetano is reluctant to let go of his magnificent career. His wife, Luna Montgomery, has plans as she transitions from mother of the couple’s four children to leader of the Beltrán family, while fighting Spain’s ‘pact of forgetting’. Cayetano’s sister, Sofía, has rising political ambitions in Valencia as Spain crowns a new king. The final ghosts of Escondrijo, Luna’s Valencian farm, can finally speak the truth. But the Beltrán Morales family must at last recognise their identity, where they sit in Spain’s turbulent present, and their potentially fractured future.

Bodies need to be laid to rest, truths must be acknowledged, and destinies are up in the air as Luna Montgomery finds her long-awaited place in her Spanish family. But death still lurks in the Valencian mountains…

The same day as the release of Death in the Valencian Dust, sees the release of the Secrets of Spain trilogy, all together in one edition, for anyone who is starting the saga, or anyone who wishes to have this limited edition release.

To celebrate, 20 copies of Death in the Valencian Dust and 5 copies of the special Secrets of Spain edition will be given away in the ebook format of your choice. To enter, just put your name in the comment section below, along with the answer to this easy question about the series –

What is the home country of Luna Montgomery and her grandmother, Scarlett?

All names and details will not be published; all comments remain private. The winners will be published on Friday 8 May.

Also, from May 7 for four days only, both Blood in the Valencian Soil and Vengeance in the Valencian Water, the first two books in the series, will be free on all Amazon sites worldwide.

Get  Blood in the Valencian Soil free from Amazon US – HERE

Get Blood in the Valencian Soil free from Amazon UK – HERE

Get Vengeance in the Valencian Water from Amazon US – HERE

Get Vengeance in the Valencian Water from Amazon UK – HERE

Get the ‘Secrets of Spain’ series free for Christmas!

To celebrate Christmas, for 72 hours only, you can download Blood in the Valencian Soil and its sister, Vengeance in the Valencian Water for free, for your Kindle (or on any device using the free Kindle app). They are the first and second parts of the ‘Secrets of Spain‘ novel series, featuring bike mechanic Luna Montgomery from Valencia, and Cayetano Beltrán Morales from Madrid, and their quest to dig up Spanish Civil War and Franco-era mass graves, while coping with 21st century Spanish life. Get one, get both, read in any order, the choice is yours! Read about 1930′s war time Cuenca, Valencia 1957 and the flood which took over the city, and present day Valencia, Madrid and Cuenca. The series has something for everyone – Spain, history, war, bullfighting, cycling, romance… whatever you like, this series will give out your favourites and tell you the stories of ordinary people in extraordinary lives. Of course, you don’t need to have a knowledge of any of these subjects, just jump in and follow the story!

Check your timezone, so you don’t miss out on the offer. The books will be on sale –

December 22 09:01 – December 25 09:00 Europe time

December 22 00:01 – December 24  23:59 US Pacific time

December 22 21:01 – December 25 21:00 New Zealand time

Click here to download –

BLOOD IN THE VALENCIAN SOIL (US/International)

BLOOD IN THE VALENCIAN SOIL (UK)

VENGEANCE IN THE VALENCIAN WATER (US/International)

VENGEANCE IN THE VALENCIAN WATER (UK)