Sometimes, historians have their uses …
Today is the anniversary of one of the most appalling floods in Tenerife’s history … the 194th anniversary! We know about it thanks to the research of lecturer and member of the Canarian Meteorological Association, José Luis Hernández, who discovered how the deluge was the result of a storm in 1826 which caused between 500 and 1000 deaths and destroyed some 400 dwellings. In Candelaria, it flooded the cave where the Guanches worshipped their goddess, the little wooden icon being lost forever, and replaced now with Christianity’s La Morenita – the black madonna – the Virgen de Candelaria, Tenerife’s patron saint (see HERE).
The majority of those affected, however, were in the La Orotava area, with the wider north Tenerife region suffering badly too. The torrential downpour lasted for 11 consecutive hours, being so strong that 12 new barrancos were created. The La Orotava valley itself was destroyed, with cultivated land devastated, and bridges and roads washed away as though they’d never existed.
The lower part of the valley was filled with sand, mud, rocks, the pulped remains of whatever infrastructure and dwellings had been carried along by the downpour, and even the bodies of people and animals which had been swept down with the waters. The bay itself was filled up with rubble so that boats were wrecked, and the area was so silted up that the sea was pushed 208 metres further out than it had been previously.
La Orotava Culture councillor Francisco Linares has said that the research is vitally important because it has recorded an historic event “unknown by the vast majority of the public”, but which created a grave humanitarian, social and economic crisis. José Luis Hernández himself said that one cannot know precisely what the weather system was that caused the catastrophe but it was probably a tropical cyclone whose effects were worsened by the considerable deforestation that took place in Tenerife’s mountains in the 19th century.
Referring to 2005’s storm Delta, he explained that on that occasion we had the great good fortune that the two fronts of rain and wind were separated. “God forbid that it should be repeated without such good luck”, he said, because the effects now are incalculable, particularly with the way in which building has taken place in barrancos.