From: Harold Heckle, Associated Press
Published September 8, 2005 12:00 AM

Spain Enjoys -- and Suffers -- First Significant Rainfall of the Year

MADRID, Spain — Many regions of drought-struck Spain breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday as rain fell over a significant proportion of the country.


Spain is suffering its worst drought since record-keeping began. With water reserves low, authorities have been forced to impose usage restrictions, reactivate disused canals and wells and recycle water at much higher levels than usual.


The national institute of meteorology said on its Web site that rain had fallen and was expected to fall in every one of the country's 17 regions on Wednesday and Thursday.


While in most of the country the amount of rainfall was not enough to make even a dent in the drought figures, some regions had gone from one extreme to the other.


Violent rain and hail storms have affected the regions of Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands while the southern region of Murcia, one of the hardest hit by the drought, had seen its first heavy rain this year.


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"We've had 20 liters (42 pints) of water per cubic meter (35.31 cubic feet) today and it has done a lot to calm people down," said Julia Martinez, hydrology researcher at the University of Murcia.


Around 95,000 lightning strikes had been recorded by the institute of meteorology over Spain in 24 hours.


Barcelona airport, located in Catalonia, had to be closed to air traffic in the late afternoon as a result of a deluge that made landing and takeoff dangerous.


"We have been told we have to wait around two hours before our flight takes off," said Sarah Hill, waiting at Madrid airport to catch a flight to Barcelona.


Roads around northeastern town Vilafranca del Penedes were "practically inundated," said Albert Puig, a local resident.


Going from severe drought to near flood conditions could have unwanted effects on the agriculture of the regions affected.


"The great fear around here is that hail and too much rain could ruin what was already going to be a small grape harvest because of the drought the vines have lived through," said Puig.


Most of the grape harvest in Spain had been brought forward by a week as a result of dry conditions. Heavy rainfall could damage grapes and cause fungal diseases to break out.


Source: Associated Press


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