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Thursday, March 31, 2022

31-M: The day it rained a whole year's worth in two and a half hours and claimed 8 lives

Twenty years ago on 31 March 2002 - the catastrophe referred to as 31-M - the highest rainfall recorded in Santa Cruz for at least 70 years caused the Riada de Tenerife de 2002 (Tenerife flood of 2002). 

The Riada de Santa Cruz de Tenerife was a severe convective storm, anchored in AnagaTeide and the Cordillera Dorsal (Dorsal mountain range) acted as an obstacle to the winds from the south west and the Macizo de Anaga (Anaga massif) channelled them to the La Laguna-Santa Cruz area. This would be the triggering factor for the convergences that formed in the area. March 31, 2002 fell on a Sunday, but it was not just any Sunday, but the last of the Easter weekend, paradoxically Resurrection Sunday. Perhaps that was the reason why the tragedy only (!?) claimed 8 fatalities. 

In the early afternoon of Sunday, March 31, 2002, it began to rain over Santa Cruz de Tenerife. What at first was apparently normal rain turned, in a few minutes, into a spectacular downpour over the capital of Tenerife. Up to 224 litres per square meter fell in two and a half hours, according to the measurement of the National Institute of Meteorology. The streets were transformed into rivers that dragged cars, stones and, unfortunately, people. The flood, caused by the action of a storm of the cumulonimbus type, claimed eight lives. 

The last victim was located a week later on the El Médano coast, ten miles from the shore, after having disappeared in San Andrés (65 kilometers to the north). The storm disfigured the city from top to bottom. The damage was extensive, especially in the neighborhoods of La AlegríaVallesecoMaría Jiménez (also known as El Bufadero), Cueva BermejaSan AndrésIgueste de San Andrés and Ifara. More than 500 people were evacuated from their homes and had to spend the night at the Fairs and Congress Centre. There were 30 injured, 700 houses destroyed, 500 premises affected and a thousand vehicles damaged. 60,000 schoolchildren were left without classes for several days. 

A first evaluation determined that the damage exceeded 90 million euros; 80% of the city was left without electricity and almost half without water. The storm caused the collapse of the emergency services, to the point that 112 was cut off for a couple of hours. One hundred thousand telephone lines were cut. Radio, through emergency generators, was the only means of communication. Yet, at the time of the catastrophe, the sun was shining in the north and south of the island.

The Canarian Government decreed three days of official mourning and the Santa Cruz City Council, chaired by Miguel Zerolo, suspended the May Festivities as a sign of mourning. 

The State Government urgently approved a Royal Decree on aid for the victims. Six days after the tragedy, the Cabildo handed over 2,000 euros to each affected family. Later, more aid would arrive from the Santa Cruz City Council and from the island corporation itself. 

One month after the event, King Juan Carlos visited the most affected areas, meeting the relatives of those that died in the floods.

(Source: Stories of the Canary Islands, Juan Carlos Mateu / María Doménech)

Bust in Santa Cruz that remembers the victims of the flood. The sculpture "Person looking to the horizon" was created by the architect Felipe Hodgson Ravina, born in 1951 in Santa Cruz. It is located at the confluence of Rambla de Santa Cruz and Avenida Francisco La Roche in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Image: Felipe Hodgson, CC BY 3.0