Storm leaves trail of destruction in parts of Spain: ‘People screamed they were drowning’

A 10-year-old boy survived by clinging to a tree branch after the car he was traveling in with his family was dragged away as it attempted to cross a bridge

Storm Spain DANA
Residents of Toledo cleaning up after the torrential rains.Claudio Álvarez

While the rest of the country was recovering from the effects of the storm that pounded parts of Spain this past weekend, people in Buenache de Alarcón were still being battered by the rain at 9 p.m. on Monday. It was in this small town in the province of Cuenca where Felisa Olmos, 73, found herself trapped between the furniture in her room early on Sunday, while water filled her house. “I remember I was hanging on to a curtain and on top of a closet. Suddenly I got dizzy and fainted,” she recalled the next day at nightfall. When she regained consciousness, she was in a hospital in Cuenca. Now, the only thing Olmos is worried about is being left out on the street: “The only thing I want is for my house to be fixed,” she says.

Three people have died in the Castilla-La Mancha region, according to the latest count. Three more are missing and thousands of residents have lost everything. Regional authorities have asked the central government to declare a disaster zone, while residents continue to sweep away the mud as best they can or look for a place to spend the night.

The flooding inflicted heavy damage in  Aldea del Fresno, Madrid.
The flooding inflicted heavy damage in Aldea del Fresno, Madrid.Alvaro Garcia

A child named Ethan spent the whole night of Sunday clinging to a tree branch to avoid being swept away by the current of the Alberche River. Eduardo Cañadas, 40, a resident of the small town of Aldea del Fresno in the Madrid region, was the first to find the 10-year-old, whose face was bruised and covered with mud. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” was all he managed to say to his rescuer.

At close to midnight on Sunday, his father had decided that it was getting too dangerous and that the family should return to their main place of residence in Alcorcón. But the car never made it over the bridge, and was instead swept away by an overflowing Arroyo Grande. Ethan’s mother and 14-year-old sister were found further downstream, but his father remains unaccounted for.

Effects of the storm on the town of Cobeja, in Toledo province.
Effects of the storm on the town of Cobeja, in Toledo province. Claudio Álvarez

At number 8 Arenal Street, in the town of Casarrubios in Toledo, the stream running in front of the building overflowed and began to seep into the first floors and push cars parked outside against the facade of the residential building. A young man in his 20s, who had recently moved in with his mother, died when he got trapped in the elevator. Neighbor testimony suggests that the young man took the elevator down to the garage to check on his car and assess whether he should take it outside in case the garage flooded. When he re-entered the elevator, the power went out and he was trapped, while the water came pouring in.

Manuel de la Vera, 28, a resident, says: “We could hear him inside, asking for help, but the water was very high and it was impossible to reach him.” Another neighbor estimates that “the boy was locked in there for at least two hours.”

The tragedy could have claimed more lives had it not been for the solidarity of the community. De la Vera, who lives on the second floor, recalls that at one in the morning they began to pull out the residents of the first floor through the internal skylights: “We had to use blankets to get the four neighbors out.” With shaking hands, muddy clothes and wild eyes, De la Vera remembers how people “shouted that they were going to drown, that they were going to die.”

Two women outside their homes in Villaluenga de la Sagra, in Toledo province.
Two women outside their homes in Villaluenga de la Sagra, in Toledo province. Claudio Álvarez

Less than 20 miles from there, the Toledo town of Cobeja still smells of mud and fuel. It looks like a box of Lego blocks thrown at random on the street. The San Pedro stream overflowed twice during the early hours of Monday, dumping mud on homes, sweeping away trucks and mixing domestic diesel deposits with mud, creating a brown cocktail that seemed to stain everything in sight.

Sacramento Serrano, 62, and Marta Jiménez, 28, fiercely push brooms to get the mud out of their house. The once cream-colored furniture is scattered in front of the door. They don’t expect to save anything, just to clean up. Inside the home, the mud is ankle-deep. “Everything was floating,” Serrano recalls. Overturned cabinets, a sofa on top of the dining room table and a brown line on the wall, a reminder of how high the water rose, are the scars left from an early morning of horror.

The water dragged cars away in Villaluenga de la Sagra, Toledo.
The water dragged cars away in Villaluenga de la Sagra, Toledo.Claudio Álvarez

Elsewhere in Spain, other provinces hit hard by the torrential rain were Cádiz, Tarragona and Castellón. The heavy rains are the result of a slow-moving storm system, known officially as an upper-level isolated depression (DANA). The storm hit Spain on Saturday, killing two people who were canyoning in the mountains of Huesca.

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