Portugal hit by wild weather

By NELSON RODRIGUES [email protected]

Strong winds of up to 130 kilometres per hour and heavy rain over last weekend caused widespread havoc and destruction across Portugal and led to the death of one man and dozens of injuries.

The disaster, described as the biggest natural catastrophe in Portugal in recent years, was caused by a freak cyclone weather phenomenon, known as explosive cyclogenesis, and said by experts to be unusual in Portugal.

The total cost of the damage throughout the country is estimated at more than €12 million.

Civil protection services reported a total of 8,205 incidents, 53 families were made homeless, dozens of roads were blocked by fallen trees, 30 flights had to be diverted from Lisbon airport, train services disrupted, and widespread damage was caused to farming amounting to millions of euros.

The worst hit areas were in the Leiria, Coimbra and Aveiro areas in central Portugal where thousands of people were left without electricity and water for several hours.

The violent wind caused two fatalities, 22 injuries, some serious, and 46 people were taken to safety according to the Civil Protection National Authority.

An 85-year-old man in Abrantes, central Portugal, died from head injuries after being thrown forcibly to the ground by a gate brought down by the strong wind.

A 72-year-old man in Alcobaça also died, but as an indirect cause of the weather, after falling from the roof of his garage while trying to repair storm damage.

The Hydrographic Institute revealed on Saturday (19) that there were giant waves 19 metreshigh and winds of 107 kilometres per hour in Nazaré.

Over last weekend Portugal was under a red weather alert due to torrential rain and winds which reached between 100 and 130 kilometres per hour.

Further weather alerts

The most seriously affected areas were the central/northern regions of the country although the whole of Portugal had faced severe weather conditions and a drop in temperature.

On Monday and Tuesday, Viana do Castelo, Braga, Porto, Aveiro, Coimbra and Leiria districts were under red alert because of the weather conditions which saw sea waves seven to eight metres high.

Vila Real, Bragança, Viseu, Guarda and Castelo Branco were under orange alert on Tuesday due to massive snowfall and wind gusts of around 100 kilometres per hour.

All over the country, numerous buildings and infrastructures were damaged.

Several national monuments in Sintra such as Pena Palace (Palácio da Pena), the Moorish Castle and the Capuchos Covent remained closed on Monday due to falling trees which were ripped out in Saturday’s storm.

The Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra was hit by the cyclone and did not escape the trail of destruction and is currently closed for an indeterminate period.

Bad weather at the Fátima Shrine (Santuário de Fátima), Central Portugal, partially destroyed the sculpture of the entrance porch, raised roofs and walls and knocked down dozens of trees.

The districts of Lisbon, Setúbal, Beja, Faro and Madeira were on yellow warning due to rough seas while in Vila Real, Bragança, Viseu, Guarda, Castelo Branco, north Portugal, and Portalegre, south of Portugal, the yellow warning was due to severe wind and snow.

Snow also caused the closure of some schools, especially in the mid north of the country and blocked several main roads.

The same happened in districts such as Vila Real, Mogadouro, Guarda and Bragança.

Serra da Estrela was no exception. The highest mountain in Continental Portugal had many of its roads temporarily obstructed due to heavy snowfall.

Several schools in Castro Daire, Cinfães and Resende municipalities, located in Serra do Montemuro, northern district of Viseu, were also closed on Tuesday due to snow.

In Sines, a coastal municipality in the district of Setúbal, waves reached 17.5 metres, the highest recorded in the area over the past 25 years.

There were also enormous waves of 15.6 metres in the major seaport of Leixões in Matosinhos municipality, near the city of Porto, and waves of 9.1 metres in Faro.

Emergency calls

Up until Monday, the civil protection service had received thousands of emergency calls; Lisbon (2,623), Coimbra (957), Porto (775) and Aveiro (584) were the districts which had received most emergency calls.

EDP, Portugal’s major energy company, stated that over the last few days they have been repairing 11,000 kilometres of high and medium voltage lines.

In addition, the EDP said on Tuesday that it had already restored electricity to more than 97% of customers whose electricity supply had been cut.

In the Algarve, fewer incidents were registered, but several trees were blown down because of the strong winds (see box) and an electric pylon flanking the A22 motorway near Faro collapsed.

Three regions in the north including Póvoa do Varzim, Vila do Conde and Esposende reported damages of over €5 million, according to a farmers’ association speaking to TSF news radio. In the west, agricultural damage may reach €1 million, according to the daily newspaper Público.

The severe weather also affected the public transportation sector.

The Portuguese railway company CP warned about possible delays due to obstructed lines. The access to some marine ports was also suspended during the weekend.

In total, 9,463 incidents were recorded across the country. The Civil Protection National Authority registered 6,018 incidents caused by falling trees and 2,425 caused by falling debris. The rains have also caused 534 flood occurrences and 279 landslides in Portugal.

||What is a cyclogenesis

Cyclogenesis is the development or strengthening of cyclonic circulation in the atmosphere (a low pressure area) which tends to form or deepen depressions. The process is associated with upper-air divergence over or near the frontal zone. Basically, cyclogenesis is an umbrella term for several different processes, all of which result in the development of some sort of cyclone. It happens very rapidly, and very vigorously. A depression can seemingly form from nothing in a very short period of time, often becoming a violent storm in a matter of hours.

Delayed or cancelled flights

Lisbon||Several flights in Portugal and across Europe were cancelled or delayed due to the extreme weather conditions.

A source from Portuguese airport operator ANA said that 33 flights to Lisbon were diverted to Faro, Porto, Madrid, Malaga and Seville due to bad weather conditions, and in total six other flights were cancelled.

Rui Oliveira, the director of ANA, said 16 flights were diverted to Faro Airport. He also explained that the alternative landing due to bad weather or any other adverse situation is a pilot’s procedure, whose task in such cases is contacting the nearest traffic control tower in order to inform them about the necessity of landing and obtain permission.

If any flight is cancelled or diverted due to bad weather, passengers have to wait for the next flight possible and cannot embark unless weather conditions improve.

Five flights departing from Lisbon to Heathrow, London, and Orly in Paris, were cancelled on Tuesday due to bad weather in northern Europe.

Over 120 Ryanair passengers flying from Porto to the northern French city of Lille were left stranded in Nantes, France, after Lille’s airport was closed due to bad weather.

Dramatic river rescue

Valongo ||The dramatic rescue of a 37-year-old motorist whose car was swept into the swollen waters of the River Ferreira in Valongo was reported in Correio da Manhã newspaper.

The driver managed to open a window and climb onto the roof of the vehicle as it began to sink, and by a miracle his cries for help were heard and the bombeiros managed to rescue him minutes before the car became totally submerged.

They saved him from drowning by throwing a rope and pulling him onto dry land. He told the newspaper he stared death in the face as the car slowly sank, and with seconds to go help arrived.