Vehicles were swept away by torrents of water during the storm. / SUR

30 September 1997: Alicante suffers severe flooding during worst storm in history

The torrential rain and flooding killed five people and caused severe structural damage to the city

Tony Bryant

On 30 September 1997, Alicante suffered the worst storm since records began when nearly three metres of rain fell in just a few hours. The torrential rain and subsequent flooding killed five people and caused severe structural damage to homes and buildings in the city. Much of the city was left without electricity and telecommunications, while shops, offices, schools and universities were forced to close.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of a storm that began after a pocket of cold air caused major thunderstorms in the southeast of Spain. The humidity given off by the Mediterranean, which was still warm due to the heat accumulated during the summer months, collided with the cold air, causing heavy outbreaks of thunder and torrential rain.

The severe conditions were the result of a phenomenon known as a Dana (cold drop), which stands for Depresión Aislada en Niveles Altos (isolated high-level atmospheric depression), which began in the Gulf of Cadiz. When it reached Alicante, within 90 minutes, more than 150mm had fallen. Within just six hours, this had risen to 270mm.

The rain began 9am, but the worst flooding came at around 1.30pm. This coincided with children leaving school and caused chaos to rush hour traffic, as the main access roads to Alicante were cut off by the torrents.

The University of Alicante was submersed in water and several lecturers and students had to be rescued by the emergency services.

One of the biggest problems occurred in areas where construction was in progress. Many streets in the city centre were engulfed in torrents of water, which swept away infrastructure, vehicles, kiosks and anything in its path.

More than 400 people were trapped in the train station and emergency services battled against the odds, since the entire area was more than half a metre under water.

Around 20 families were also rescued from their homes, and entire areas of the city had to be evacuated.

Five people lost their lives, including a child and his mother who were swept away by the water. The emergency and security services spent days rescuing people stranded in their homes or trapped in their vehicles.

Due to its geographical location and its climate, Alicante is commonly affected by heavy rainfall; after this tragedy, measures were taken to prevent future storms from causing the same devastation.