Zaragoza on orange alert after Ebro River bursts its banks

Rising waters force local residents from homes, while emergency crews called out 75 times

A bird's eye-view of the Ebro river flooding.(atlas)

The city of Zaragoza has issued an orange alert – the second highest on the Spanish scale – due to flooding from the Ebro River.

At 4am on Monday, rising waters reached the capital of Aragón with a volume of 2,542 m3 per second and crested at over six meters, after which the water level began to descend, said the regional water authority Confederación Hidrográfica del Ebro (CHE).

The city’s entire firefighting squad and 130 local police officers were sent out to deal with the flooding, and people had to be rescued from their homes in three rural neighborhoods. Between Sunday night and Monday morning, rescue workers went out on 75 missions.

The chairman of CHE, Xavier de Pedro, appeared on the radio on Monday to defend his agency from widespread criticism for failing to foresee the flooding along the banks of the Ebro.

Spain’s Interior Minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, is scheduled to fly over the flooded parts of Aragón

De Pedro noted that for years the CHE has been asking for the river to either be drained in places where it runs through riverside villages, or else to enlarge it to make room for higher water volumes. Both options have been ignored because of environmental legislation prohibiting it.

The most at-risk municipality is Pina del Ebro, a village of 1,600 residents located 30 kilometers from Zaragoza, which could be evacuated by 1pm on Monday if necessary, authorities said.

The residents of Pradilla del Ebro (population 584), who were forced out of their homes on Saturday, are being allowed back, while inhabitants of Boquiñeni (population 896) were waiting for the army to complete the installation of a provisional bridge.

Over in the neighboring region of Navarre, the citizens of Tudela (population 35,072) and Buñuel (2,279) were still waiting for the water level to go down before starting cleanup work, said the regional government.

Spain’s Interior Minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, is scheduled to fly over the flooded parts of Aragón and meet with regional premier Luisa Fernanda Rudi. The central government is planning to pass a decree on Friday to release money to help deal with the consequences of the natural disaster.