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The Conqueror's Mistake
The 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 settlement.

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 time.

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.

Piura River, 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.

There's not 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.

After Peru 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, apparently.

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.

Coscomba Lagoon 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.

Piura River 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 whole rim.

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
Several surveys, 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.

The highest 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.

Also, Grau 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 and croplands.

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).

Extraofficially, 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, unsuccessfully.

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.

Awakening Monday 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.

An eyewitness assured to FACTORTIERRA.NET  that a landfill made to gain land to the river was erosionated in a matter of hours.

March 27th morning. The water had raised almost  5 feet high. The neighborhood formed basically by high-medium class families became the first homeless.

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 later.

Inmediatly, the 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.

Crossing the 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.

The next 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.

Tuesday 28th 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
after the 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.

Piura's Regional 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.

Despite, 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.

The scientist 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 level.

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 opines.

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
Trujillo, La 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 March 1998.

Anoter famous 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 27th's overload.

Their founder 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.

With reports of  Roberto Saavedra in Chulucanas, Liliana Alzamora in Tambogrande, Nancy Estrada in Piura and Carlos Conde in Trujillo.
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