29 March 2007

The Deluge III

I'm wondering whether these days will be known as "The Great Rains" in the future...

It's the fourth day of rain here in Rosario. Yesterday afternoon the precipitation stopped for some hours and the clouds became less dense, but the sun didn't appear. Today it rained during the morning, then stopped, then drizzled, da capo.

Yesterday's alert in my barrio was just a scare, but it was justified by the menacing appearance of the rising water in the streets. When the rain stopped, many people went to do an eye check of the Ludueña Stream, where it emerges from four large underground pipes into its mouth, a few hundred meters before merging with the Paraná. Based on the pictures I saw in today's paper, the pipes were barely sufficient, but the water didn't go over the brim. The water in my street was the result of a sewage system that is relatively new but hasn't been maintained and was overwhelmed by the amount of water and trash; a few hours after the rain stopped, it had drained completely as expected.

(The above is an old scanned picture of the part of the Ludueña Stream I was talking about. The water was much lower, stagnated and polluted. Currently the water covers the pipe exits and reaches up to the inner brim.)

There's a delay dam in the upper course of the Ludueña, and derivation channels, built in the 1990s, after decades of fighting against the politicians' indifference. Populous areas of the city, including my neighbourhood, suffered episodic flooding every time exceptional rainfall caused the Ludueña Stream to overflow its banks. The last one, in 1986, was truly catastrophic, and everyone from my age up remembers it, so we were on edge. At 6 PM there was a meeting in the community center (I was there waiting for my doctor!) and it was explained that the Ludueña's works had proven our salvation. Back then we would've been up to our necks in water after only half of the precipitations we've had since Monday.

(You might want to get a map of Santa Fe now.)

Anyway, many others didn't have such luck. The rain soaked up the soil in the countryside and overflowed canals and streams all around the city and in several other parts of the province. Consider that our region is almost completely flat and it's traversed by so many shallow watercourses that until the 19th century it was known as Pago de los Arroyos, i.e. "Land of the Streams". The Carcarañá River, a tributary of the Paraná north of Rosario, also overflowed its banks yesterday. The Saladillo Stream, which forms part of the southern limit of Rosario, is close to overflowing too. The level of the Paraná River reached 5.29 m, only one centimeter below the official evacuation level — i.e. the level at which the river itself (not its tributaries, not the rain) may overflow and force the evacuation of low-lying areas.

As the rain subsided around Rosario, the situation worsened near the provincial capital, Santa Fe. There are now about 20,000 people evacuated in Santa Fe Province: 12,000 in Santa Fe City, 3,200 in Rosario (where they're being sent to a third evacuation center), and at least 600 in Carcarañá. Santa Fe City is finding it hard to drain all that water; it's maybe historically significant that in colonial times it had to be moved a few years after its foundation because the terrain was too floodable, and the choice of a new site was not very good. Santa Fe is much more vulnerable to river flooding than Rosario, and now the coastal defenses built to contain the river's rising water are keeping the rain water inside.

The picture is not brighter elsewhere. The city of Rafaela (pop. 84,000) is under 1 meter of water in parts. Many small towns have been completely flooded or stand literally isolated, their access roads covered by the waters. National Routes 7, 9, 33 and 34 were partly submerged and blocked in several segments, as was the Rosario–Santa Fe Highway and smaller Provincial Routes; NR 9 and 33 are working again now.

The vice governor of Santa Fe, María Eugenia Bielsa, declared a state of "hydrical emergency", while governor Jorge Obeid, who is on an official trip in Venezuela, is trying to get back as soon as possible (I was expecting that, only two days ago!). The Santa Fe Ministry of Interior got AFA to suspend the local football tournament schedule for this weekend, in part because the authorities and the police are too busy, and in part because there are roads, towns and stadiums under water. (By the way, and again showing the porteño view, La Nación has a space for this horrible catastrophe only to note that the River–Colón football match has been suspended. Clarín has a better coverage, focused on the also worrying problems of Entre Ríos, with videos and all.)

The executive branch of the Municipality of Rosario asked the City Council for a 2-million-peso (US$660,000) emergency aid package, which was approved this afternoon; this is to cover the cost of mattresses, bed sheets, food, medicine, and the logistics of handling thousands of evacuees. Right now, as I told you, there are three emergency centers ready: the Communications Battalion No. 121 and the gyms of the Newell's Old Boys stadium and the Náutico Avellaneda club. These are already full, so one more site is being readied at the Military Lyceum in nearby Funes.

The National Meteorological Service has renewed its weather alert (rain, localized storms, possibly hail) for the nth time, and says the bad weather might continue until Friday.

1 comment:

  1. D for Deluge

    I imagine that the cleanup in some places in going to be a major undertaking once the water subsides.

    I was in Prague shortly after the Vltava flooded the city in 2002. There was silt everywhere, and the high water marks were still visible on the buildings. Perhaps one of the most dramatic events was the flooding of some subway stations before they were able to close the entrances.

    It was also amazing to see how high the water from the Arno reached in Firenze (Florence) in 1966 – there are plaques showing the flood level up to the first floor in some buildings. It’s mind-boggling to realize how fast floods such as this can happen, and the incredible damage that water can do.



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