Death Toll More than 60 as Flash Floods Swamp Pyrenees Campsite
Aug. 08, 1996
BIESCAS, Spain (AP) _ Flash floods sent rocks and mud tearing through a packed campsite in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, killing as many as 63 people and sweeping away trees, cars and furniture.
Some 180 people were injured in the torrent of water, rocks and mud, officials said today.
Police said 650 people, mostly Spaniards, had been staying at the Virgen de Las Nieves camp on the outskirts of this tiny mountain town 15 miles from the French border. About 100 people were missing.
Hundreds of divers, firefighters and other rescue workers backed by helicopter teams and army mountain units moved into the area as dawn broke to search for survivors.
Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, on a tour of the site, said 62 or 63 people had died.
Local officials and police, however, reported a lower death toll.
By afternoon, 56 bodies had been recovered, said Jose Manuel Guiu, spokesman for the regional government of Aragon. The dead included six children, Spanish national radio and the EFE news agency reported.
``I ran to try to help a girl. But a time comes when it's either you or them,'' survivor Antonio Espinosa told national television from his hospital bed. ``I got out alive, but I don't know what happened to the girl.''
The flooding began Wednesday evening as heavy rain quickly turned torrential, moving rocks and forming rivers of mud. Today, the camp looked like a battlefield strewn with cars, campers and uprooted trees. Television pictures showed the hand of a buried person gripping the branch of a tree.
Guiu said the camp site had literally been washed away. One body had been found 10 miles from the area.
The flooding washed recreational vehicles, tents, trees and pieces of furniture hundreds of yards from the site, Aragon regional president Santiago Lanzuela told national radio.
``It's been a terrible, tragic night,'' he said. ``There's nothing else one can say.''
Dozens of people, including many children, were evacuated and put up in hotels, police stations and private homes in the area.
Many tourists from Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and France were among the campers at Virgen de Nieves, located between two Pyrenees Mountain ravines at an altitude of 2,800 feet.
Flash flooding is frequent in the summer months in Spain. Last August, 11 people were killed in the central town of Yebra when houses and street walls collapsed under torrential rain.
Aznar, who was to be joined later by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, said: ``We'd all like to express our deepest sympathy to the families of the victims and encouragement for those injured.''
He described the campground as an ``awful sight.''