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Flash Flood Washes Away Pyrenees Camp Site, More Than 60 Dead

August 8, 1996

BIESCAS, Spain (AP) _ Flash floods raced through a Pyrenees Mountain camp jammed with hundreds of vacationers, carrying away cars, tents and campers in rivers of mud and debris. At least 67 people died.

Hundreds of divers, firefighters and other rescue workers moved into the area as dawn broke Thursday to search for survivors. Officials said 40 people remained missing by evening.

Police said 650 people, mostly Spaniards, were at the Virgen de Las Nieves camp site when the flooding began Wednesday night on the outskirts of Biescas, a tiny mountain town 15 miles from the French border.

Light rains suddenly turned torrential, carrying away rocks and forming rivers of mud. The next morning, the site looked like a battlefield strewn with cars and campers and trees torn from the ground.

One television image showed the hand of a buried person gripping the branch of a tree.

``I ran to try to help a girl. But a time comes when it’s either you or them,″ one survivor, Antonio Espinosa, said from his hospital bed. ``I got out alive, but I don’t know what happened to the girl.″

A British couple, who only gave their names as Ann and Roy from Yorkshire, England, waited out the storm in a tree, clutching their two young children as water rose more than a yard high.

``It was horrendous. All I could think about was trying to keep warm, trying to keep the children warm,″ said Ann.

Rosa Esteban said she and her family saw other campers and cars being tossed and rolling down rapidly moving flood waters. The Estebans took refuge in the camp restrooms.

A bright sun and blue skies Thursday replaced the terror and destruction that swept through the football field-sized camp at the foot of a steep mountain ravine.

Those that found ways to survive the flood and hurling rock walked back to the site to find the little that remained of their belongings scattered across torn-up terrain.

Twisted campers and jeeps filled with mud and rock lay strewn over what had been a typical summer camping area.

By evening, 67 bodies had been recovered, said Jose Manuel Guiu, spokesman for the regional government of Aragon. One body was found 10 miles from the camp, which is located at an altitude of 2,800 feet.

Spanish national radio and the EFE news agency reported that six of the dead were children. Some 180 people were treated for injuries.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar flew to the site, followed later by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, who walked about talking to survivors and rescue workers.

By evening, police identified 45 of the dead, all Spaniards.

Some 500 rescue workers, including underwater divers and firefighters backed by helicopter teams and army mountain units, took part in the search for survivors.

Most of the survivors were taken overnight to a sports center in Biescas. Others were housed in hotels, police stations and private houses in the area.

Deaths from flash flooding are not uncommon in the summer months in Spain. Last August, 11 people were killed in the central town of Yebra after a sudden storm.

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