Flash flood turned campsite into `Dante's version of hell'

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The Independent Online
A picturesque campsite in the Pyrenees which had hours previously held 650 holidaymakers, was yesterday described by one rescuer as "like a scene from Dante's version of Hell".

As the death toll rose to 62, survivors described how they had clung to trees and given up helping other victims in their efforts to save themselves, after a freak flash flood sent mud, rocks and uprooted trees crashing through the site, shortly after 7.15pm on Wednesday.

More than 180 people were injured, including 13 Britons. The flash flood, caused by heavy rains during the previous two days, swept campers, tents, caravans and cars from the Virgen de las Nieves camp up to half-a-mile away.

One Yorkshire couple, who only gave their names as Ann and Roy, waited out the storm in a tree, clutching their two young children, as water rose more than 1m high.

"It was horrendous. All I could think about was trying to keep warm," said Ann.

An unknown number of holidaymakers at the site, which was said to have operating at capacity, were still missing yesterday.

"It all happened in a flash - I can't explain it, it was like a giant wave carrying off everything, the cars, the trailers," another survivor told Spanish television.

"It was a matter of seconds, not even minutes. The main street in the campsite was a river of mud, between 1m and 2m (3ft and 6ft) deep."

Witnesses said some people had saved themselves by clinging to trees. One man who survived by grabbing hold of a branch said he had watched bodies being swept past in the strong flow.

Another survivor, visibly shocked, described from his hospital bed how he had to give up helping other people swept away by the flood in order to save his own life. "There comes a moment when it's you or nobody," he said.

According to the Aragonese regional government, those 28 dead whose identities were yesterday made public were all Spanish.

Officials fear dozens more bodies could still lie downstream, in a river near the mountain town of Biescas, about 80 miles east of Pamplona. Some of the bodies were pulled from mud as far as 10 miles downstream from the camping area.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia flew to the disaster area to comfort relatives of victims as rescue workers battled to pull bodies from the mud. The Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, who interrupted his holiday to survey the damage, described it as a "dreadful sight".

The British Consulate in Barcelona warned yesterday that the number of UK nationals involved could rise. Among those accounted for last night was a family of four, with two children, aged six and nine, who were travelling with a caravan.

The family had lost their caravan and car in the torrent but were said to be "remarkably well" given their ordeal and were staying with a Spanish family. A second family of four was also involved, according to unconfirmed reports.

Police said the task of identifying the victims was being complicated by the fact that most were not carrying documents.

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