People in the town of Alcanar in north-east Spain have been assessing the damage caused to homes and businesses by flooding produced by intense rain that fell over large areas of the country.

Residents said they were fortunate no lives had been lost when more than 250 litres of water per square metre was dumped on the town between 12am and 6pm on Wednesday.

“We had to get upstairs to our apartment and then leave it all in God’s hands,” said Rosa María Sancho, 67, the owner of a restaurant on the Alcanar boardwalk, on Thursday.

A municipality worker cleans up in Alcanar
A municipality worker cleans up in Alcanar on Thursday. Photograph: Joan Mateu Parra/AP

The flash flooding quickly turned streets into rivers that swept away all in their path. Several cars were carried away and about a dozen ended up tossed into the surf of the Mediterranean Sea. Homes and businesses were filled with mud, water and debris.

Sancho’s daughter Carla Bayerri said they watched helplessly as “part of the terrace went into the sea”.

A line of mud on a wall marks the flood level inside a home in Alcanar
A line of mud on a wall marks the flood level inside a home in Alcanar. Photograph: Joan Mateu Parra/AP

Firefighters used a helicopter to rescue three people in serious danger. More had to pulled from cars that were caught in the rising waters. Regional authorities relocated 58 residents into hotels, while another 16 spent the night on cots in a sports pavilion. Four people had to be rescued at a nearby camping ground that was also badly damaged.

Paquita Aubalat was relieved that her 93-year-old father, Vicent, was rescued from his home in Alcanar by a neighbour when it was overwhelmed by water.

“He had all his life in [his home], but the important thing is that he is safe,” Aubalat said.

A man clears out mud after the flood
A man clears out mud after the flood. Photograph: Joan Mateu Parra/AP

Authorities were working to reopen roads and train lines made unpassable by the mud and water.

Other parts of Spain’s central and northern areas, including Madrid, also experienced flooding on Wednesday. Large areas of Spain’s north and its Balearic Islands remain under alert for storms for a second consecutive day.

Spain’s national weather service said there had been an increase in hard rainfall and droughts linked to the climate crisis.

“Spain is observing, above all in points of the Mediterranean, periods of torrential rain that are more intense and longer periods of drought that are interrupted by these intense rains,” the weather service spokesperson Rubén del Campo said.

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