Spain’s Zaragoza braces for floods as Ebro river set to break its banks

Aragón’s capital and Spain’s fifth most populous city is preparing for the Ebro river that runs through it to overflow on Tuesday, following floods in other parts of Spain in the past days that have claimed two lives. 

A six metre water flow runs as Ebro river flows past the Spanish city of Zaragoza's cathedral on March 2, 2015. AFP PHOTO / CESAR MANSO
The last time the Ebro reached a height of 6.10 metres was in 2015, when the city of 700,000 people saw garages, homes, roads and businesses flooded. Photo: César Manso/AFP

The city of Zaragoza is preparing for some of its worst floods in years after a period of heavy rains and flooding in other parts of Aragón, Navarre and La Rioja in recent days.

Storm Barra has been accompanied by the thawing of snow at higher altitudes, which have caused rivers to rise rapidly in northern Spain.

Zaragoza authorities are on high alert and have urged residents to stay as far away as possible from the Ebro, Spain’s second longest and fast-flowing river.

On Monday they evacuated neighbourhoods and cordoned off areas of the city close to the river, many of which were transformed into parks and pedestrian zones when the city hosted the Water Expo in 2008.  

Different road accesses to the city have also been cut off and Zaragoza’s city hall has advised residents to remove their vehicles from flood-prone areas into parking areas they’ve provided.

Since Monday, Zaragoza’s inhabitants have been gazing out at the Ebro watching it crawl closer to the river banks and comparing it to previous floods.

According to the Ebro Hydrographic Confederation (CHE), the river will likely reach a maximum flow of 2,400 cubic metres and a height of 6.20 metres, its highest level on record, which has been forecast for Tuesday afternoon.

A section of the ARA-1 motorway, in Villafranca de Ebro near Zaragoza, collapsed when the Ebro broke its banks in 2015. Photo: César Manso/AFP

The last time the Ebro reached a height of 6.10 metres was in 2015, when the city of 700,000 people saw garages, homes, roads and businesses damaged by the floodwaters.

Two people have lost their lives in recent floods in the neighbouring region of Navarre, where two weeks of heavy rain have culminated in floodwaters engulfing cars and flooding homes.

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2022 sees record wildfire destruction in Europe: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

2022 sees record wildfire destruction in Europe: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.