Monday, March 08, 2010

Madeira floods


The news from Madeira lately has been shocking, but maybe not so surprising. Given the way the island was deforested shortly after it was discovered, the Maderenese have been paying for it ever since. Friable volcanic rock and steep unstable slopes in a semi-tropical oceanic position, flash floods like this appear to be a seasonal occurrence, although in most years these floods, although devastating, are fairly localised and small scale in their effects. I saw many landslips whilst walking on the Levadas last November, and they were all being fixed by the resident workforce the Levaredos within hours of being reported. This time it is’nt going to be so easy to sort things out.

From the photos and video reports I have seen so far the flood appears to have come from the area to the east of Monte in the Barbosas /Curral das Freitas area, where a huge bowl in the escarpment funnels much of the seasonal rains into the two main Levadas, which on this occasion were probably overwhelmed and destroyed.

When I was there last November, the locals were already complaining that it was the wettest Autumn they could recall and one of the guides on a walk I did thought that it would’nt take much to cause a significant event, although I think he expected it to take place in Ribero Brava [which in any event was hit quite badly] but not in Funchal with it’s pretty wide and efficient flood channels. As it was the flash flood was so ferocious it just overwhelmed the defences and as usual the debris brought down the slope blocked up against the bridges linking the old and new towns.

I found this photo on one of the News sites and it shows the channel that ran down the middle of the main drag into downtown Funchal. That channel is at least 3 or 4 metres deep at this point and at least 10 wide – so that’s a lot of water heading down to the sea.

The hotel I stayed in is just behind the red roofed building and the trees on the left of the picture, so I’m hoping they got away with little damage. This channel leads right down into the old town, the market, bus station, and lots of small local shops and cafes, restaurants which make this part of the town the best part of Funchal especially if like me, you are a low cost frugal traveller.

So what now? I guess it’s going to depend on how quickly they can get things cleared and repair the damage, although the tourist trade – which the island depends on to get by- will have inevitably taken a hell of a knock.

Was I intending to go back? Well yes, but I had’nt really put a date on it. I like the place and there is something good about acquiring a familiarity for somewhere else, where you can go and relax in your favourite harbour front café and watch the world go by without having to discover something new, because it’s your first trip there. I can still ‘explore’ as I’ve not been to the neighbouring island of Porto Santo yet and there places on Madeira that I’d like to take a look at.

Having said that, for this year I was actually intending to go exploring – in the western Canaries- which are largely free of the lager/family type of tourists, and probably worth a look, before mass tourism takes hold.