Natural Disasters in Andorra: Catastrophes of the Past and Risks of the Future
Andorra is a very popular tourist country. Every year thousands of tourists come here to relax, ski and simply stroll around the beautiful mountains. And of course they should know in advance what natural disasters or catastrophes they may encounter. A natural disaster always comes unexpectedly, but knowing its potential can help you prepare for it.
Climate characteristics of Andorra
Andorra lies on the border between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains. It is a dwarf state that can be visited by bike in a day. In fact, Andorra can be classified as being in the south of Western Europe, but due to its high altitude, the climate is unique. The mountain valleys are covered in evergreen broad-leaved forests and a little higher in coniferous forests. Even higher up are the alpine meadows and beyond them the snow-capped peaks. Even in summer, there’s always snow.
Potential hazards that could cause a natural disaster in Andorra include:
- Snowmelt in the mountains, which can lead to avalanches, destruction and loss of life.
- Heavy rains that can cause landslides and floods.
- Seismic activity, which can lead to earthquakes and rockfalls.
The importance of studying the history of disasters
The history of natural disasters is important information to learn before travelling to your chosen country. Knowing the potential dangers that may be ahead of you will not only help you choose the right place, but also the time and season of the year when the threat of being in the midst of a natural disaster will be minimal.
Knowing, for example, that Andorra is in spring and early summer, as the snows melt, you’ll know there’s a risk of avalanches, landslides and rock-falls.
This article will give you a chronology of the natural disasters that have occurred in Andorra in the past.
There are few earthquakes in Andorra itself, but the country is frequently hit by strong tremors, the epicentre of which lies in Spain or France. In October 1999, for example, a magnitude 4.5 earthquake hit France, not far from the Andorran borders. The tremors created panic amongst the local population, but there were no casualties or damage.
The Catalan earthquake of 1428 was the largest earthquake in Andorra’s history. Its epicentre was in the Pyrenees to the east of Andorra and the tremor, measuring 6.5, led to a series of devastations in the country’s settlements.
In modern history, Andorra has only recorded tremors of magnitude 2, but the possibility of a major earthquake cannot be ruled out.
With the onset of the autumn rainy season, landslides often occur in the mountains. Usually they are localized and do not lead to destruction or loss of life. But sometimes landslides affect mountain villages and block roads.
25 January 2008
After a heavy downpour, a landslide blocked a section of an important motorway between La Massana and Ordino. Streams of muddy water with stones destroyed a car park and damaged several cars. Residents of an apartment building in the dangerously nearby were evacuated. No one was injured, but traffic on the highway was cut off for three days.
7 July 2009
A massive rock slide has blocked the motorway between La Massana and Andorra la Vella, the capital. Most of the rocks were able to block with special barrier nets, but part of the landslide broke through and blocked the motorway for three hours.
Avalanches are the most common type of natural disaster in Andorra. No year is without these disasters, but thanks to the actions of the rescue services, loss of life is almost always avoided. During periods of high avalanche danger, rescuers restrict access to mountains and resorts. Nevertheless, there are several devastating disasters in history.
1996, Arinsal Valley
On the evening of 8 February, a huge avalanche hit this picturesque valley and the small village located in it. As a result, many houses, cars, a hotel and tourist apartments were destroyed and buried under the snow. Thanks to the timely evacuation, no locals or tourists were injured, but the material damage was extensive.
1970, Pas da la Casa village
The avalanche occurred after an unusually heavy snowstorm. The fresh snow lied on top of the existing snow cover and, accumulating a critical mass, rushed down the slope. In the village of Pas da la Casa, the avalanche destroyed several buildings, including the hospital. Casualties could not be avoided, and a nurse was left dead as a result of the disaster.
Flooding is not a typical disaster in this mountainous country, but history remembers several episodes when heavy rains could lead to disaster.
In 1982, for example, heavy rain almost destroyed La Massana. For two days the streets of the town were flooded and there could have been an explosion due to the collapse of the gas distribution plant. It was averted, but 7 people died and another 12 went missing.
The greatest threat to tourists in Andorra is the mountains. Avalanches and landslides are frequent there. After heavy rains, mountain rivers can overflow their banks. Earthquakes in Andorra are not typical, although they are probable. Andorra is not afraid of such disasters as hurricanes, tsunamis and storms because of the lack of the sea coast.
The safest time of year to visit Andorra can be considered summer, when the threat of avalanches and landslides is minimal.