In photos: 40 years since the campsite tragedy of Los Alfaques

Forty years ago on July 11, 1978, Spain experienced the second most deadly event after the Los Rodeos airport disaster in Tenerife, where 583 people were killed. At 2.30pm, a truck filled with liquid gas exploded near Los Alfaques campsite in Alcanar, Tarragona, near the town of San Carles de la Ràpita, killing 215 and seriously injuring many more.
Forty years ago on July 11, 1978, Spain experienced the second most deadly event after the Los Rodeos airport disaster in Tenerife, where 583 people were killed. At 2.30pm, a truck filled with liquid gas exploded near Los Alfaques campsite in Alcanar, Tarragona, near the town of San Carles de la Ràpita, killing 215 and seriously injuring many more.Chema Conesa
Around 103 people were killed on the spot by the blast. In the following days those with serious injuries, some with burns covering up to 90% of their bodies, were added to the casualty list. A year later, all the bodies of the victims had been identified, except for two.
Around 103 people were killed on the spot by the blast. In the following days those with serious injuries, some with burns covering up to 90% of their bodies, were added to the casualty list. A year later, all the bodies of the victims had been identified, except for two.Chema Conesa
At around 11am on July 11, 1978, a Pegaso truck belonging to the company Cisternas Reunidas left an Enpetrol factory in Tarragona filled with propylene – a dangerous, inflammable gas. Francisco I. V. was due to drive the truck to Puertollano in Ciudad Real, and despite the long distance, he was alone, without the customary co-driver.
At around 11am on July 11, 1978, a Pegaso truck belonging to the company Cisternas Reunidas left an Enpetrol factory in Tarragona filled with propylene – a dangerous, inflammable gas. Francisco I. V. was due to drive the truck to Puertollano in Ciudad Real, and despite the long distance, he was alone, without the customary co-driver.Chema Conesa
The truck was made in 1973 and lacked safety valves, a feature that was not required at the time of the accident. The rigid gas tank could hold 19,350 kilograms, but it was filled with up to 23,470 kilograms of propylene, according to the experts who analyzed it. This detail was not awarded great importance, suggesting that it must have been a common practice at the time.
The truck was made in 1973 and lacked safety valves, a feature that was not required at the time of the accident. The rigid gas tank could hold 19,350 kilograms, but it was filled with up to 23,470 kilograms of propylene, according to the experts who analyzed it. This detail was not awarded great importance, suggesting that it must have been a common practice at the time.Chema Conesa
After leaving the Enpetrol factory, the truck passed San Carlos de la Ràpita, where thousands of people were enjoying the summer holiday, and drew level with the camping site at Km 159 of the N-340 Barcelona-Cádiz freeway at around 2.30pm.
After leaving the Enpetrol factory, the truck passed San Carlos de la Ràpita, where thousands of people were enjoying the summer holiday, and drew level with the camping site at Km 159 of the N-340 Barcelona-Cádiz freeway at around 2.30pm.Chema Conesa
The hot summer temperatures and the overloaded cargo increased the pressure inside the gas tank. Without proper safety valves, gas leaked out and sent a spare tire flying. The truck exploded 100 meters later in the middle of the road.
The hot summer temperatures and the overloaded cargo increased the pressure inside the gas tank. Without proper safety valves, gas leaked out and sent a spare tire flying. The truck exploded 100 meters later in the middle of the road.Chema Conesa
The propylene gas sent out a white cloud and rained down fire with temperatures reaching up to 2,000°C.
The propylene gas sent out a white cloud and rained down fire with temperatures reaching up to 2,000°C.Chema Conesa
The truck split in two. The cabin and front part of the gas tank continued down the road while the rear was propelled backwards, hitting a restaurant 200 meters away from the initial explosion. The propylene spread toward the campsite.
The truck split in two. The cabin and front part of the gas tank continued down the road while the rear was propelled backwards, hitting a restaurant 200 meters away from the initial explosion. The propylene spread toward the campsite.
More explosions followed. Butane cylinders, car fuel tanks and other flammable elements that were in the campsite turned the area into a scene from hell.
More explosions followed. Butane cylinders, car fuel tanks and other flammable elements that were in the campsite turned the area into a scene from hell.Chema Conesa
Around 800 people were staying at the Los Alfaques campsite at the time of the explosion, many of them foreigners. The campsite officially had capacity for 260 people.
Around 800 people were staying at the Los Alfaques campsite at the time of the explosion, many of them foreigners. The campsite officially had capacity for 260 people.Chema Conesa
There were 12 country houses and a nightclub located next to the campsite.
There were 12 country houses and a nightclub located next to the campsite.Chema Conesa
A building located in the middle of the campsite acted as a barrier and stopped the explosion from spreading to the entire area.
A building located in the middle of the campsite acted as a barrier and stopped the explosion from spreading to the entire area.Chema Conesa
Most of the victims were German or French nationals. Belgian and British tourists were also killed. The catastrophe was followed closely across Europe. Thousands of telephone calls from other countries flooded the switchboards of hospitals, hotels, consulates and other organizations that were connected to the campsite.
Most of the victims were German or French nationals. Belgian and British tourists were also killed. The catastrophe was followed closely across Europe. Thousands of telephone calls from other countries flooded the switchboards of hospitals, hotels, consulates and other organizations that were connected to the campsite.Chema Conesa
For months, a Spanish team of specialists worked to identify the bodies. At the time of the tragedy, the campsite did not keep records of its guests. The first list of missing people had to be created from the (very good) memory of the campsite owner.
For months, a Spanish team of specialists worked to identify the bodies. At the time of the tragedy, the campsite did not keep records of its guests. The first list of missing people had to be created from the (very good) memory of the campsite owner.Chema Conesa
Most of the bodies were in an unrecognizable state. The first rescue team on the scene, nervous and in a hurry to identify the bodies, accidentally labeled a watermelon and a ham as human remains. This first team offered generous support but derailed the process of identifying the victims. Bodies were placed beside one another without any indication to where they had been found. The team took out bodies from the inside of cars without noting down the vehicle they were in, which would have helped with their identification.
Most of the bodies were in an unrecognizable state. The first rescue team on the scene, nervous and in a hurry to identify the bodies, accidentally labeled a watermelon and a ham as human remains. This first team offered generous support but derailed the process of identifying the victims. Bodies were placed beside one another without any indication to where they had been found. The team took out bodies from the inside of cars without noting down the vehicle they were in, which would have helped with their identification.Chema Conesa
Burned bodies were collected from the sea and the beach. Fleeing for the water, which according to witness accounts began to boil, turned out to be a bad decision. Many bodies were found in seated positions, with rigid arms and legs, as many of the victims were having lunch at the time of the accident.
Burned bodies were collected from the sea and the beach. Fleeing for the water, which according to witness accounts began to boil, turned out to be a bad decision. Many bodies were found in seated positions, with rigid arms and legs, as many of the victims were having lunch at the time of the accident.Chema Conesa
Dental remains helped to identify the bodies. By looking at the victims’ teeth, specialists were able to determine an approximate age and a close representation of their faces. This information was then matched with the dental records of the missing people. Children, who in many cases had never been to the dentist, were the hardest to identify.
Dental remains helped to identify the bodies. By looking at the victims’ teeth, specialists were able to determine an approximate age and a close representation of their faces. This information was then matched with the dental records of the missing people. Children, who in many cases had never been to the dentist, were the hardest to identify.Chema Conesa
In January 1978, six people went on trial at a Tarragona provincial court. The victims, who received 2.5 billion pesetas in 1978 (around €106 million taking into account inflation), withdrew their individual lawsuits. Two people from the Enpetrol factory where the truck had been filled up were sentenced to a year in prison for reckless negligence. Four people from Cisternas Reunidas, which owned Enpetrol, were acquitted by the court. Senior officials from Enpetrol who had been cited as witnesses but not prosecuted did not even testify in the trial.
In January 1978, six people went on trial at a Tarragona provincial court. The victims, who received 2.5 billion pesetas in 1978 (around €106 million taking into account inflation), withdrew their individual lawsuits. Two people from the Enpetrol factory where the truck had been filled up were sentenced to a year in prison for reckless negligence. Four people from Cisternas Reunidas, which owned Enpetrol, were acquitted by the court. Senior officials from Enpetrol who had been cited as witnesses but not prosecuted did not even testify in the trial.Chema Conesa
The tragedy led to changes in security regulations for transporting dangerous goods. It also led to new plans for road traffic, stricter rules for drivers, new norms for loading and unloading cargo, inspection programs for gas tanks, and in some cases a weekend ban on the transportation of hazardous material.
The tragedy led to changes in security regulations for transporting dangerous goods. It also led to new plans for road traffic, stricter rules for drivers, new norms for loading and unloading cargo, inspection programs for gas tanks, and in some cases a weekend ban on the transportation of hazardous material.Chema Conesa
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