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Could this phenomenon happen? is maybe one of the most asked questions when looking at the (awful) images that took place last Saturday here on Madeira.

There was no tropical storm … no hurricane …. no cyclone … no devastating hard winds … no tsunami-like waves. Just lots of rain …. plus the fact that …. Madeira is an island!

So how could this happen?

But first …. I am only looking for scientific or climatological explanation … and not political reactions. I do not want to hear/read politics …

My thoughts are the following:
Madeira was plagued by bad weather during the week before. On Saturday 20th of February the combination of heavy rainfall and winds over 60mph saturated the higher mountain regions, plus the fact that there was also snow in that area and the sudden increase of temperature, … caused an immediate swelling of the mountain streams, … resulting in walls of water and mud cascading down the slopes towards the southern coast. The abundance of water could not be handled by the drains and catch basins.

What do you think?


Trevor Trotman · February 23, 2010 at 11:00 am

It’s quite simple really isn’t it. Funchal is a natural amphitheatre. The water comes off the mountains into Funchal from all directions, it’s almost as if the city centre is at the bottom of a funnel.
What makes it worse and probably what caused the devastation to the Anadia shopping centre is that, what is a very wide ribeira half a mile up the road becomes quite narrow ribeira in front of the Anadia and Mercado. The water has nowhere to go except out of the ribeira and onto the road.

Joel Ferreira · February 24, 2010 at 5:19 pm

If reminding people of the dumping of rocks and dirt on the mountain slopes, that has taken place over the years, without regard to the consequences, when it rains, is politics, then my comment is not going to be posted.
They saved a few thousand euros by not dumping at the proper sites, and now everybody is going to pay. Over one billion euros, I heard, the estimated cost of reconstruction.
I guess the same people will be hired to do the clean up and reconstruction. It’s a win, win situation.
Will the people of Madeira ever wake up?

John · February 24, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Why so many rocks? It seems an avalanche.
Did some part of the mountain breakthrough?

Norma Martins Butner · February 25, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Did it ever occur to anyone that sometimes there aren’t answers to be found in science? We have grown so scientific, myself included, that we forget that forces so far “Greater than Man” truly controll this planet. If something happened once–it can always happen again. We need to come to the realization that we should not and can not controll everything. Again and again our planet keeps reminding us of this fact. There are forces/things/beings (whatever you want to call it)are so far greater than man that we need to look in there/His direction for our answers. Man can use his learning to try and prevent these desiasters, but ultimately it truly is out of our hands.

Gavin · February 28, 2010 at 4:21 am

I must comment on what ‘Norma’ stated previously. Although not all answers are to be found in the sciences, of course to say this is absurd. However, regarding the incident that happened recently in Madeira I believe Science offers many answers. First of all climatology and meteorology can begin to explain ‘how’ the awful events occured, of course they cannot answer ‘why?’ however it is clear to me that it is merely the blind and uncaring indifference of nature. We can then, however begin to look at the issues regarding the excess amount of water which devastated the beautiful city of Funchal and other towns and villages on the southern shores. Although the ferocious, blind and callous happenings that nature sometimes throws at us are out of our control, this is not to say that we cannot be better prepared for them. For example; urban planners could begin to look at what went wrong in Funchal and the other towns and start to look into what can be done to avoid, or to at least lessen the possibility of a tragedy such as this one to happen again. Eco-physicists, ecologists, among others can all help to reduce Madeira’s susceptibility to large scale flooding, landslides etc. It takes a tragedy like this for gorvernance, politicians, developers and councels to realize where they have went wrong. I visited Madeira in July last year, I was told by several people that development has immensely increased in past years, this is not necessarily a bad thing, however careful, steady and efficient development should be as standard, given the geographical and geological predisposition of the beautiful, verdant island of Madeira, which by the way, I shall undoubtedly be returning to in the foreseeable future. One further comment, to simply say ‘but ultimately it truly is out of our hands’ is defeatest, civilization would not have begun with this attitude, in which I’m guessing you evidently benefit so much from. This attitude, (thankfully) does not seem to be apparant in the admirable and seemingly pliable and resilent folk of Madeira.

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