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Posted by portugalpress on March 08, 2018
Armação de Pêra / Photo by: João Brigida
Photo by: Bruno Filipe Pires/Open Media Group
Photo by: Bruno Filipe Pires/Open Media Group

In one of those weeks ‘to forget’, the Algarve has witnessed two extreme weather phenomena confirmed as low-density tornadoes which cut a devastating swathe across the Sotavento region, from Faro to Vila Real de Santo António, destroying years of agricultural work and investment, and bringing heartache and pain. Within hours, government representatives were on the ground, promising aid. But the worst of it all is that there may be more to come.

As we went to press on Wednesday, meteorologists were warning of a new round of horrendous weather.

Conditions are due to start deteriorating today (Thursday) with the worst of the new front arriving on the continent by Friday morning.

After well over a week of rainfall and massively powerful seas, the cliffs too are under attack.

Maritime Police have issued the alert to populations to keep away from them as much as possible, avoid walking either on top or below, as many – particularly on the south coast – are in imminent danger of subsidence.

As the regional director of Portugal’s environmental agency APA explained, cliff falls usually come within five days of a major storm.

Sebastião Teixeira has already flown over the coastline from Vila Real de Santo António to Praia da Luz to check ‘danger spots’ and what kind of emergency measures may need to be taken. He registered over 10 collapses, the worst of which took place in the early hours of Monday morning: a total of 500 tons of rock tumbling down onto the sands between the beaches of Vau and Careanos in Portimão.

The rocks will be left where they lie – as they will (hopefully) serve as a natural warning to beachgoers in the summer not to put their towels among them.

Elsewhere, a number of “beautiful sandy beaches” have received a thick coating of rocks and, as Teixeira explained, these will disappear naturally with the tides – “some already have”.

But it is inland that the effects of the recent extreme weather that brought winds of between 117–180 km/hour have been much more long-lasting.

In Faro, for example, over 130 people within an established gypsy community are trying to come to terms with the total destruction of makeshift homes which they “have to return to” (in the words of mayor Rogério Bacalhau, who says his council simply does not have the wherewithal to rehouse them).

Agricultural growers are still totting up the devastating toll on greenhouses which were quite literally devoured by the wind, particularly in Pechão (Olhão).

And one elderly lady from Albufeira is reported to be in hospital after being hit by a falling tree in the council car park on Monday morning.

Considering the force of the two tornadoes that roared onto the mainland last Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon, eye-witnesses have remarked that it is miraculous that there haven’t been more personal injuries, particularly as in one case a wall came down at a packed football game (at the Moncarapachense ground), metres from where people were sitting.

One of the spectators told reporters: “I really don’t know how we all came out of this alive. It was hellish.”

Brit John Slaughter was in a Faro restaurant when the second tornado hit land mid-afternoon on Sunday, and described scenes of panic as people initially believed they were caught up in a terrorist attack.

He wrote online that there was “a very loud noise” as windows broke open and metal curtains “started banging against each other which sounded like machine gun shots”.

It’s unclear which restaurant he was in, but in Portimão days earlier popular beachbar NoSoloÁgua was totally destroyed by roaring waves riding on the back of the first of the level F1 ‘low density tornadoes’.

Video clips and dramatic photographs have since been widely shared over social media as the authorities have set up a special fund to support agricultural damages.

Secretary of State for Agriculture Luís Medeiros Vieira travelled to the Algarve on Monday outlining the kind of aid that will be forthcoming once the various businesses affected have finished totting up their damages.

Media reports have alluded to “15 agricultural holdings” but there may be others.

Medeiros Vieira said the final amount of damages would be clearer “by the end of this week”.

“All damages declared up to €5,000 will receive outright 100% support,” he told growers, adding that from €5,000 to €50,000 there will be 85% support and above €50,000 up to a total of €800,000 outright grants will cover 50% of damages.

The truth, however, is that some growers may simply not have the energy to rebuild – and others are ‘standing by’ to see what else this terrible stretch of bad weather may bring.

Tornadoes affect Viana do Castelo and Espinho

The Algarve hasn’t been the only region to be hit by low-density tornadoes: both Viana do Castelo and Espinho have experienced tornadoes of their own. But meteorologists stress it is in the Algarve that the effects of this latest round of bad weather are the most worrying, mainly due to the fragility of the coastline.

“Rain may even be more intense in the centre and north of the country,” said Ângela Lourenço of IPMA (sea and atmosphere institute), “but because of the southwesterly wind and waves, the southern coast of the Algarve is most vulnerable”.