Thunder in the Ravine Monday, Jan. 19, 1959 Time Magazine
The peasants of northwestern Spain tell a legend about Lake Sanabria. At its bottom, they say. lies the village of Villa-verde de Lucerna. It was drowned a long time ago. when Jesus, dressed as a pauper, came begging alms and the villagers turned him away. Only a few women who gave him bread were saved, as well as the oven in which the bread was baked -and the oven survived as a small hermitage on the western shore of the lake near the village of Ribadelago.
One night last week all was quiet in Ribadelago. In the tavern men were playing cards. At the church Father Plácido Esteban-Gonzalez ? had just arrived on his motor scooter from the provincial capital of Zamora. An electrician named Rey was working late in his shop. Shortly after midnight the lights in the village flickered out. At the tavern, irritated cardplayers lit candles, went on with their game. Suddenly, a distant, muffled roar was heard. To woodcutters in the mountains, it sounded like a "great stampede." To one villager, the noise resembled "a continuous dynamite blast." Father Placido went worriedly into the street, as did the electrician and some of the men from the tavern.
The thunderous rumble came from up the valley, where, three miles distant and 1,690 ft. above them, the Tera River, swollen by a fortnight of rain, was held in check by a stone and concrete dam built two years ago. The only explanation of the now deafening thunder was that the dam had burst. Electrician Rey scrambled up the church tower, began ringing the bell in alarm. Father Plácido started waking his neighbors. Some few fled with him across the only bridge and climbed the opposite hillside. Others raced to the church tower or to high ground.
A wall of water, with the weight of 230 million cu. ft. behind it, came surging down the narrow ravine, smashed into the village in a wave 20 ft. high. The stone bridge was swept away. The church was cut in two, and only the tower remained standing. All but 25 of the town's 150 houses were wiped out.
Slowly, the flood subsided and lost itself in the waters of Lake Sanabria. On the surface floated the bodies of men, women and children. Dead cows, pigs and chickens were mingled indiscriminately with tree trunks, telegraph poles, rooftops, household goods. A man caught in his home floated to safety on the inflated rubber mattress on which he was sleeping. The innkeeper, who escaped to the hillside, went back to empty his cash register and was drowned. Just before the water hit, an elderly couple dashed back for their life savings. They disappeared. Of the village's 500 inhabitants, 201 were drowned or missing, and rescue workers estimated that the toll would pass 250.
This time the legendary oven hermitage of Villaverde de Lucerna was not spared; it too was swept away.