A FLASH FLOOD!

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Morocco:  A Flash Flood in Ait Benhaddou!

October 11, 2010

After getting us settled into our hotel, a converted castle with sandstone walls, narrow corridors, and low doorways, in the late afternoon, Tahar led us across a dry riverbed behind the hotel toward a remarkably well-preserved but abandoned Kasbah that appeared to rise up into the surrounding mountains.  The wind had been picking up during the afternoon and suddenly we got bombarded by a sandstorm that had been brewing gradually but had become fierce, and we were forced to shield our faces to avoid the stinging pellets of sand as we struggled to the other side of the river.

After we were safely across, and despite the persistent fierce wind, Tahar led us through the Kasbah and explained that it had once been a major settlement, but that only five families remained, the rest having moved to a nearby town. 

The buildings were constructed of mud and straw and the streets were narrow and winding, similar to other Kasbahs we'd seen so far.  There were several small shops selling knickknacks, and there was one local artist, the son of one of the families who lived there, who, while we watched, created a remarkably detailed watercolor painting in his shop.

We'd been making our way through the Kasbah for nearly an hour, and as we emerged from one of the narrow passages, there was a clear view of the riverbed below that we'd crossed earlier.  Suddenly, Tahar's eyes grew wide and he pointed to a rush of water rapidly coming down from the nearby foothills toward the dry riverbed - a flash flood!!  Although we'd noticed menacing clouds earlier off in the distance, we hadn't given this much thought!. 

He told us we needed to turn around right away and get back, otherwise we'd be trapped on this side of the river.  And no, there was no bridge nearby!  We moved as quickly as we could, and as we approached the riverbed, it appeared that the flood waters were picking up speed and rising quickly as they rushed toward us!  We started running and crossed the riverbed with the water only about 200 yards away and moving fast.  (Click here to watch:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPfcpFyP8Gw and also here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXeytOEO6xs)

We got past the first rush of water and several of us, myself included, thinking we were clear of the danger, stopped to take some pictures.  Suddenly Teresa, who was quite far ahead of us, shouted and started waving, and when we looked up, Christopher, Brandon and I realized that water was rushing toward us from another direction.  Then we ran like hell!!  Seconds after making it to the far shore, a raging flume of water roared past us!  Yikes!  Close call!

We watched from the hotel terrace as dozens of tourists who were stranded on the wrong side of the river tried to figure out what to do.  Several four wheel drive vehicles crossed through the water as we watched, taking some of them safely across.  One local entrepreneur drove his mule through the water to offer an escape route!  Back at the hotel, bottles of beer and wine suddenly appeared as our group rehashed the panic and excitement of the moment.