Was Finestrat flash flood tragedy waiting to happen?

TWO British tourists died during a flash flood in a market in La Cala Finestrat on Friday. Now questions are being asked whether this could have been avoided.

The Guardia Civil have reportedly opened an inquiry into the death of the couple to establish if it was a natural phenomenon or mismanagement by Finestrat Council.

Some three years ago the same area suffered flooding, with the lower part of the Cala, adjacent to the beach, submerged in slow flowing waters that had descended from the Puig Campana mountain, along the natural course of the dry river bed where the weekly market is situated.

At that time, the waters rose slowly, and the inundation did not take place on a market day. This time the water was likened to a mini tsunami wave, and those in its path had no time to escape its force. The waters dragged market stalls and people in its wake, with predictably tragic consequences.

The weather in the market was not that threatening. “It was only spitting rain a little” said one trader, “but the sky was black inland over the mountains.” Rain had been falling heavily up in those mountains all day, causing banks to burst and a wave to rush down to the sea, following gravity and its natural course, along the dry river bed, at the mouth of which were waiting Friday market’s unsuspecting shoppers and traders.

The two British pensioners who died, Kenneth Hall, 72, and his wife Mary 70, were on holiday from their home in Bootle, Merseyside, and were in a cafe within the market area when the wall of water swept them to their deaths.

They were trapped under a vehicle and drowned; their bodies were only discovered when the waters subsided. Others were injured after being caught in the torrent, and were taken for treatment to the local Villajoyosa hospital.

A friend, Pat Mercer, 62, told British daily #i# The Guardian#i# the couple were regular visitors to the area. “They went to Benidorm twice a year. They loved it out there, they went there for the last 20 years or so. They were fabulous, they were the most devoted couple you would ever want to meet.”

The water was said by one trader called Sandra to have been “foul smelling”, and she was taken to hospital and treated with antibiotics after having swallowed it as she was bowled along in the flood.

As well as the tragic loss of life, and physical injuries suffered, the economic loss to the traders at the market, has for some been devastating.

Market stalls and stock were towed along like so much flotsam to simply float out to sea, or be snatched up by opportunist thieves who were seen to be piling items into vehicles.

The loss of the stall structure and stock could mean ruin for many traders, who have no insurance, nor the financial back up to replace their entire stock and vehicles.

At a meeting on Monday at Finestrat Town Hall Mayor Honorato Algado promised to open “special lines of credit” for the traders as well as an information office.

Benidorm’s Sunday market was conspicuous in having many gaps in its stalls, where traders who had been at Friday’s events in Finestrat, had lost everything. They had no stalls, no stock and in some cases no vehicles, and so did not attend.

In July of last year, Finestrat was fined €83,000 by the Valencia regional government for laying asphalt on the surface of the dry river bed without the necessary permissions. Given that there is a basic premise that dry river beds cannot be used for construction, such permission would undoubtedly have been refused.

Despite the fine, and reason behind such being that it is dangerous to use dry river beds for any purpose, Finestrat Council nevertheless continued to allow the market to continue, and continued to collect revenue from the illegal activity.

Now with the two deaths, the question may be raised as to the possibility of a charge of negligent manslaughter being raised against those responsible.

The concept exists in Spanish law, and it is not so are fetched to argue that those in power who took the decision to allow the market to continue, knew or should have known of the inherent risks, and the possible consequences.

The Halls had three sons and a daughter.

By Paul Deed

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