extreme weather

Return to normality will be "long and hard" in flood-hit Pyrenees "

"The main thing is there were no victims to mourn," says Catalan interior chief

The River Garona runs through Artíes, in Vall d'Aran.
The River Garona runs through Artíes, in Vall d'Aran.Toni Garriga (EFE)

Getting "gradually" back to normal is the priority now for residents of Vall d'Aran, a picturesque valley in the Catalan Pyrenees that sustained heavy damage from flooding on Tuesday.

"The effects of the rise of the Garona river in Vall d'Aran were very serious, and a return to normality will be long and hard," warned Ramon Espalader, Catalonia's internal affairs commissioner, in statements on Wednesday.

The Catalan official struck a positive note, underscoring that "the main thing is that there were no victims to mourn; that is the most important part of this emergency."

After decreeing a state of emergency for 24 hours after heavy rains and thawing mountain snow brought heavy flooding to the area, authorities on Wednesday brought in heavy machinery and workers to start with the cleanup work along the Garona, where there is a lot of accumulated mud and "severe structural damage" to private property and public infrastructure. Repair work will require "significant financial resources and time," said Espalader. In the small town of Arties, the water reached the two-meter mark, leaving behind a trail of destruction inside the ground floors of homes and businesses.

Repair work will require "significant financial resources and time"

Fernando España, owner of a restaurant called Casa Tana, told Efe news agency that everything has been destroyed. "We cannot retrieve anything," he said. "We were scared, thinking that the river was going to sweep away the house and the restaurant, which are near the river."

The top priority for now is getting communications and drinking water back to the 3,500 residents of the valley's capital, Vielha, and 1,000 other people in the municipalities of Betrem, Bossòst, Arties and Salardú. Besides Vall d'Aran, the nearby districts of Pallars Sobirá and Alta Ribagorça were also affected by the rise of the Noguera Pallaresa river.

Meanwhile, technicians from energy company Endesa got power back to customers and began repair work on the damaged power lines. In a statement, Endesa said that military helicopters transported some of the 12 generators that got electricity back to the area.

But the water also took down pipes, deposits and water treatment plants. "Repairing the damage will not be easy," said Espalader. Until then, tanker trucks will deliver water to places such as Vielha hospital.

Espalader said it was still too early to venture a figure on the damage caused by the flooding, because some of the infrastructure remains underwater. That is why he said it is still not time to request that the area be declared a disaster zone, although the Catalan government will support any decision by the Conselh Generau d'Aran, the top self-governing body in the valley, he added.

Another matter for concern is the roads, some of which remain blocked to traffic. The road to the nearby French border was scheduled to reopen on Wednesday evening, but only as far as Bossòst.

With the level of the Garona dropping one meter from Tuesday, 300 evacuees were told they would slowly be allowed to return to their homes, though only in the company of firefighters who will first check for structural damage.

Located in the province of Lleida, Vall d'Aran and the surrounding area is a favorite destination for fans of outdoor sports, particularly climbing and skiing (the popular skiing resort Baqueira-Beret is located here).

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