The Conqueror's Mistake
relationship between Piura City and the water has not been one of the
most possitive, misunderstandings are older than its Spanish foundation.
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By Nelson Peñaherrera
Piura River's overload that flooded Piura City on March 27th,
2017 was caused by a heavy rain fallen over Upper Piura Valley. The
first affected places were towns like Carrasquillo (photo), at March
25th night. The impact only was plenty visible the morning later.
Photo Courtesy Miguel Chávez, distributed by FACTORTIERRA.NET.
PIURA CITY, Peru - It is supposed that Francisco Pizarro
founded San Miguel on August 15th, 1532, becoming the first Spanish
Empire's city in South America, locating it over the Tallan
[pronounce "Tajahn"] town of Tangarara, actual Marcavelica District, just beside Chira (then Turicarami in Tallan language) River.
What promised to be a productive convivence -the soil was pretty fertile- turned disease soon. Malaria decimated the inmigrant population, that decided to move away the river .
In 1534, it went about 50 miles SE of Tangarará, next to Pilán Mount, Monte de los Padres Acres and Las Damas Creek, actual La Matanza
District. Although Lengash River ran nearby, the city did not
located beside this time. It could be renamed as Piura (supposedly from
quechuan "Pirwa" or barn) there, name that river was given too.
It grew up as
much as 40 years until drought ccomplicated the life. A
bunch decided to move on 85 miles W, at the beach, in San Francisco de
la Buena Esperanza town, founded in October 1532.
People refusing to leave Monte de los Padres were forced to change their mind when a powerful El Niño
[pronounce "El Neeño"] event in 1578 pushed them to take west way, "and
they went also because of mosquitoes strong and eye-illness outbreak ,
what is allergic conjunctivitis actually," archeologist Daniel Dávila
explains, who joined excavations made during the last two decades in
Piura La Vieja (Old Piura), what is named the second San Miguel's
After that, a
town was consolidated in the middle of Tayta (from quechua "lord" or
"master") Bay, supposedly called so because of a nearby
1000-feet-altitude mount that was belief to have magic powers.
Castilian turned the voice into Payta and the mount was renamed Silla de Payta (Paita's Chair) because of its shape.
It was not a
good idea neither, apparently. The pirates did not wait until the city
was abled that they bribed and set it on fire. And that happened time after
In 1583, Payta ran away massively 42 miles east, to El Chilcal landmark, in the opposite bank of Tacalá
Indian town. In the beginning, sweet water supply was not a concern
because Piura River ran a reasonable flow, also Tallán indians have
dammed the water using their engineering techniques, what Viceroy
Toledo used to strengthen the structure using calicanta or masonry
mixing river rounded stones, lime, mud and birds eggs.
what comes from 190 miles E in Huarmaca District, is particular
for having a little flow between May and December, but it can increase
pretty much between January and April - or it can increase colossally
if it rains extraordinarily in Peruvian Northern or Ecuadorian
Southern, where El Niño happens more intense because intrusion of Equatorial warm seawater over Antarctic cold seawater.
Catacaos City, a touristic place just the south away of Piura
City, during a heavy rain on March 23rd, 2017. People feared about
electric storms but they never imagined the real threaten could happen
on their surface.
Photo by Julio Sosa, distributed by FACTORTIERRA.NET.
abundant information about the relationship of San Miguel del Villar,
how the town was renamed, and the river, although it could be suppose
tracking down the worst El Niño events registered by history since
Spaniards came into Peru: 1578, 1616, 1720, and 1788.
declared its independence in 1821, the event returned powerful in 1891
and 1925, years that scientists now mark as a very local manifestation
called Coastal El Niño,
that only impacts on South ecuadorian and North Peruvian coasts until
the Western Andean Range's west slope and anywhere else in the planet,
Another remarkable event due to its intensity happened in 1972, filling up Coscomba Lagoon, located in actual Piura Metro Area SW sector, now 26 de Octubre District. People tell that going from Piura to La Legua Village by a truck had to rim it ccarefully.
seemed to be another Tallán dam, and Santa Julia Lagoon is close.
Both's declination begins to be felt from Bolognesi Square, Piura
historic downtown's southern side.
increased so much in 1972 that overflooded. Castilla District
Municipality registers on March 16th to 19th that river reached its
main square, located 0,4 miles from the normal flow, after flooding the
The next remarkable events were 1983 and 1998,
when a more scientific assumption was going on. In fact, it's a general
opinion that the city was better prepared for 1998 heavy rains because
of scientists warning.
This aerial view orientated to the north shows the first flooded
places in Piura City on March 27th, 2017. On the left: some exclusive
residential neighborhoods in Piura District, like Los Cocos del Chipe.
On the right: National University of Piura campus in Castilla District.
Photo: © Javier Távara / Távara Digital.
The Flooding City
among official and academic, repeat that Piura Metro Area (now a
compound of 26 de Octubre, Piura, and Castilla cities plus La Legua
town) is settled on a web of torrents and creeks, so the urban surface
is not flat but smoothly waving, 84 feet average altitude.
point is a hill where Vallesol School is located, northern sector,
Piura District. The lowest point is the urban zone known as Los
Polvorines, southwestern sector, 26 de Octubre District, just right where
Coscomba Lagoon was located.
even, their main avenues like Grau
are a sort of storm drains. As youapproach to the downtown, the road
goes down having its major deppression at Miguel Cortés Park, half a
mile west from Piura River. Any doubt, you can start your way from Grau
and César Vallejo Avenues intersection and move toward the east for
checking it on.
Avenue runs a lowest level to Grau Square from Piura Cathedral's
atrium, just 800 feet west from Piura River and in front of Main Square,
where San Miguel del Villar began. Spaniards ever used to plan their
urban development from their main squares or major squares.
There are just
two bloks from here to the river. A hanging bridge allows passing to
Castilla City, the ancient Tacalá town, in the opposite bank.
one of the
surprising things for the newcomer is that actual pier, what borders
the flow canal is about 5 feet above the street level. It's
eguiguren Pier, remade after 1983 El Niño, that did the river to grow
up until getting 3000m3/s estimated load. It reached 4400 m3/s in 1998, its maximum histtorical registered, that fall down Bolognesi Bridge, the fourth one coming from the north.
Los Cocos del Chipe in Piura City is a weird real-estate issue -
sold like an exclusive residential zone, it caught the attention of
some prominent locals, including top engineers, who bought almost
closed eyes. Obviously, nobody warned them that their money turned
water, literally. This picture was taken on March 27th overnight, a
FACTORTIERRA.NET source assures, but that could not be independently
verified, unlike the author's so far.
The Overload of 2017
The city seemed to resist until Monday, March 27th, when Piura River assaulted it again.
Saturday, March 25th. A 19-centimeter rain fall over Buenos Aires and Morropón
Districts, In upper Piura Valley, about 75 miles NNE Piura City.
This increased fastly the river load, that flooded Pueblo Nuevo de
Buenos Aires town at 21:00 (0200 GMT, March 26th) then Carrasquillo
town [see the picture at the top of this story], becoming to delete its bridge for several hours. The
population lived a night in panic while the water came into their homes
March 26th awakening. The 'wave' was right below Ñácara Bridge, straight Chulucanas City southern side, where its crest registered 1700 m3/s at 10:00 (1500 GMT), according to data by Regional Operating Center for Emergency (COER in Spanish).
the overload 'tripped' 37 miles along the overnight, enough time for
COER to be summoned by emergency. Piura's Governor Reynaldo Hilbck
released on some media and his social media to warn the people of
Medium and Lower Piura Valleys abouth the overload - blocking defenses and alert
at the streets both banks of the river passing through adjacent Piura
and Castilla, and flash floods in some farmer villages down the river, in Lower Piura Valley.
Officials initially estimated 2700 m3/s once the overload reaches Piura City.
Trying to protect the population, Hilbck himselff supervised the Piura River's dam backing up in Catacaos District, 8 miles S of Piura City. Then, the flow already began to show some increasing traces.
Right before Sunday March 26th noon. The overload was already in Tambogrande
City, about 30 miles NW of Chulucanas and NE of Piura City. Technicians
and people crossed fingers for the river not to reach over 2200 m3/s,
16:00 (2100 GMT). 2900 m3/s passed beside Tambogrande City and flooded its south and west sides, that was already vulnerable after a 18-centimeter rain fallen last March 3rd.
This aerial photo taken on March 27th, 2017 is orientated to the
north and shows Piura River overpassing Cáceres Bridge, what connects
Piura and Castilla Districts, Open Plaza Commercial Center, one of
Piura City's most popular, and Miraflores Neighboorhood aroun at the
right of the picture).
Photo: © Javier Távara / Távara Digital.
In Piura City, officials saw each other overwhelmed before the evident mistake of the forecast. Los Ejidos Dam, located just 2 miles N from the Main Square, increased its load 100 m3/s
every hour, COER data reviewed. A new alert was released for regional
capital city to be ready for a significant overflow, altought it was
not specified how much impact it could cause. A big part of the people,
even connected to the Internet by their smart phones, did not pay
attention to the warning or simply did not believe it.
Who realised of
the danger chose to save their lives, and had the whole Sunday to do
it. A journalist which father was mourned at Castilla on Sunday
26th in the morning told several guests excused to attend saying they
heard about the overload warning and they had preferred to prevent.
27th. Just 24 hours and 60 miles after the 'wave' reached Chulucanas,
its crest arrived into Los Ejidos, already Piura Metro Area, but their
effects were previewed the night before. Los Cocos del Chipe
residential neighborhood, just 0,8 miles down the dam was filling up
progressively by the water in a big part due to one of the rim defenses
was replaced by a metal net.
assured to FACTORTIERRA.NET that a landfill made to gain land to
the river was erosionated in a matter of hours.
morning. The water had raised almost 5 feet high. The
neighborhood formed basically by high-medium class families became the
Less than an
hour later, the river assaulted the opposite rim flooding National
University of Piura's campus, just NW edge of Castilla City:
classrooms, labs, equipment, papers, were swept and useless by water
and light brown clay, proffessor and senior journalist Miguel Godos told
flood covered Open Plaza Commercial Center, the most attended and
popular in metro area, leaving it 6 feet under the water. Many
department stores lost thousand of dollars in merchandise. The
surrounding Miraflores Neighborhood was the next. Hardly saved Cayetano
Heredia Regional Hospital and the complex where are located san Ignacio
de Loyola School, CIPCA and Care Peru NGO
and Radio Cutivalú studios and newsroom that was live on the air
along that day, even when the flood became to threaten it.
opposite bank, the water penetrated the cracks among the cement bloks
forming the river defense and covered 3 feet lower part of San eduardo
(where Piura regional Government headquarters are located), Santa María
School, and part of Mangachería,while the other part was saved by an
elevation of the land.
assaulted part was Eguiguren Pier. Piura downtown became 5 feet below
the water, including Main Square and Civic Center where Municipality
Building is located.
Monday 27th, 14:00 (1900 GMT).
Piura River was 3400 m3/s. After flooding historic downtown, it took
Grau Avenue depression toward Grau Square. "Notify it's
flooding," our partner Edgar del Solar warned, whom was reached by tthe load in that place.
That night, the
water broke down Dos Ánimas Dam in Catacaos, where the bank was tried
to be protected the morning before, flooding 80% of Catacaos City, mostly living from tourism, and many rural villages until arriving to the base of the hill where Narihualá Tallán Fortress is located.
awakening. A great part of towns and croplands in and nearby the Piura
River's rim were under the water, teir ways left useless, and the
people just owned the only clothes they wore the night before.
Miraflores Neighborhood in Castilla District flooded by Piura
River on March 27th, 2017, between Open Plaza Commercial Center (on the
left) and Cayetano Heredia Hospital (on the right). This aerial view is
orientated to the east and it's leaving us a question - was Tacalá
Tallán Dam located just here?
Photo: © Javier Távara / Távara Digital.
As The Water Gets Low
incident that could affected around 75 miles along the Piura River's course and
0,4 miles inside both banks, taking images and reports of
eyewitnesses and rescuers, many people accused lack of prevention
but very few persons have pointed out what the mistakes chain is.
Concellor Hermes Alzamora said to El Regional de Piura news website that an unconsidered factor,
documented in university thesis, is the river floor
sedimentation, what could be accelerate by this year's overload. The
phenomenom consists in a sediment layer over the river bed that
the load adds a new layer, and so successively until raising it.
That's why he marked the load is not the only index for being alert or quiet but the soil depth.
In 2015, Peru's
President Ollanta Humala administration tried to dig rivers, make the
river beds deeper, and put rocks on the rims before an announced El
Niño event for 2016, but what never arrived as heavy rains.
That time's Agriculture Ministry Juan Manuel benites said if
those works had not been made, damages could be greater.
Governor Hilbck thinks Piura River exceeded all forecast. "If you
put two liters of water in a one-liter glass, it is gonna spill
anyway," he said RPP cable network. He was criticized for holding
a top advisor, who during the 27th's emergency suggested to break down
a dam and flooding Cura Mori District in exchange of saving Los
Cocos del Chipe, idea that, according to University of Piura's Engineer
Jorge Reyes, could been useless because the problem was the water
strenghth but not the volume.
said Piura's Correo newspaper that it's urgent Piura River ends ath the
sea instead of Sechura Desert like today. Obbviously the next question for
Reyes is how to fill de desert which is around 200 feet under the sea
It's also true
that el Niño is a part of the Piura Coast's historic and geographical
reality, in the beginning. "I guess it's a negligence that learning
about el Niño event happening every 50 years, storm drainage and
waste water system have not improved," archeologist Daniel Dávila
The surveys are
in Piura Regional Government's stock library, as FACTORTIERRA.NET could
find after a simple query by using Google. Also, there are
historic sources those could object 16th-century Spanish
soldiers skill to choose where they founded their cities.
On this aerial view orientated to the south and taken on March
27th, 2017, we can see Castilla District on the left (Cayetano Heredia
Hospital appears that side) and Piura District on the right. Piura
River overflow is between both going down to Lower Piura Valley,
covering cities, villages and croplands.
Photo: © Javier Távara / Távara Digital.
Good Soldiers, Bad City Planners
Libertad Region's capital city, has been affected by San Ildefonso
Creek overload again and seven times this yearn, destroying the same
places, El Porvenir District's Mampuesto Cemetery among them.
Corpses and coffins reached the downtown again as it happened in
landmark like Mexico City, founded over the ruins of Tenochtitlan
by Hernán Cortés in 1521, was set on a little islands
network in Texcoco Lake, that Spaniards dried off by
building drains and destroying dams planned to avoid
floods. Almost every 30 to 40 years after Iberian
occupation, New Spain Viceroyalty capital city was smashed
by the water out of control.
Today, the needs
of running water are absorbing the underground and sinking the megapolis where more than 20 million people live.
Coming back to
Piura, anoter city founded by a Spaniard, Villa de la Santísima
Trinidad de La Punta, today Sullana, has its historic downtown
untouched, despite it's near Chira River. Even El Príncipe historic
downtown, today Tambogrande, responsed relatively better to March
was not a soldier but a priest, Trujillo Bishop Baltazar Martínez de
Compañón y Bujanda. Was his criteria regarding overfloods more
accurate? The cities are right there as a proof.
Piura Regional Government released this photograph after March
27th, 2017 to justify it was working to prevent the flood, basically by
backing up rim dams in Lower Piura Valley.
of Roberto Saavedra in Chulucanas, Liliana Alzamora in
Tambogrande, Nancy Estrada in Piura and Carlos Conde in Trujillo.
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