Other than his own children I don’t suppose there are too many youngsters who have got away with ‘High Fiving’ the King of Spain, but one little girl at the Nuestra Señora de Monserrate junior school in Orihuela on Friday, not only got away with eliciting the greeting from the king but she also drew a wry smile from his majesty as he stopped to carry the gesture out.
King Felipe and Queen Leticia were in Orihuela to show their solidarity with those affected by the Gota Fria that devastated the lives of so many people 3 weeks ago.
On Friday morning they visited the city before moving during the mid-afternoon to Los Alcázares where they hoped to learn first-hand of the terrible effects suffered by so many members of the community during the torrential rains.
The couple arrived in Orihuela, the capital of Vega Baja del Segura, just before noon, where they were greeted by almost a thousand people
They were welcomed to the area by the President of the Generalitat, Ximo Puig; the President of the Alicante Delegation, Carlos Mazón; the Government delegate, Juan Carlos Fungencio, as well as the mayor of Orihuela, Emilio Bascuñana
The first stop was the Plaza del Carmen where they were able to greet a sizeable crowd and with protocol abandoned they carried out the unusual step in Spain of conducting a walkabout, shaking hands, hugging and chatting to many of those affected by the storms.
Next up was a meeting in the Town Hall with the municipal government team and the 27 mayors from each of the municipalities in the Vega Baja, as well as members of the police and the emergency services, where they were told of the damage and the amount of work required to return the region to a semblance of normality.
The royal couple were then back on the streets as they moved to the small village of Molins, where they visited many of the ruined properties, also speaking to many of those worst affected by the storms. They visited the badly affected junior school, the Nuestra Señora de Montserrat school, which was also greatly damaged by DANA.
The flooding caused the death of six people, two of them in the province of Alicante, as well as the evacuation of several thousand people and serious material damage to homes, roads and agriculture, which had catastrophic consequences due to the overflow of the Segura River.
The City Council decreed three days of official mourning and was also forced to suspend classes in schools as well as many sports centre activities. In addition, about 1,500 bottles of water were distributed to the population following the loss of the drinking water supply and many families had to sleep in shelters when their homes were flooded by water.
On their way to Los Alcázares during the afternoon, the Royals called in to the San Javier Air Base where Don Felipe and Doña Letizia expressed their condolences to the relatives of the Air Force commanders who died in recent aviation accidents.
At the Los Alcázares Town Hall, they were received by local and regional authorities where there was also a great deal of applause and flag waving from the general public, but there was also no lack of banners and messages from protesters and members of the ‘Flood Affected Platform’ who were clearly heard chanting “We want solutions,” which reverberated across the Town Hall square. And the message was so clearly heard by Queen Letizia that she commented on her surprise that the residents were asking for “solutions, and not help, as was the case in Orihuela.”
The mayor of Los Alcázares, Mario Pérez Cervera, handed the king and queen two letters, from the associations affected by the floods of Los Alcázares and Torre Pacheco, before they watched a video in which two children explain the effects of the DANA on the environment.
They were shown an exhibition of photographs from the floods, photos of mud and despair, but also of solidarity and courage.
Following a meeting with the Murcia authorities, where the royals asked about “the economic future of the area”, they moved to the seafront and the Paseo de la Feria, where many of the shops were still closed due to the damage caused by the water. They saw the beach, almost without sand and covered with stones, mud and objects dragged up by the water. The queen asked “Is the brown colour of water normal?”
There were many moments of emotion during the visit, such as their greeting to the hundreds of members of the different security forces who spent many hours assisting the people of Alcazar, among them the forest agents, who were the last ones to withdraw from the task.
The king said he was fully aware and extremely grateful of “the volunteer capacity that this catastrophe has had.”
As a farewell, at the hotel La Encarnación, the mayor gave the King a photo of the moment when his great grandfather, Alfonso XIII, first opened the hotel and spa almost a hundred years ago.
Following the visit, the mayor of Los Alcázares confessed that, although he has never considered himself as a great defender of the Crown, it was “very important” for him to see the kindness with which the royals treated the people and, how he remarked how happy he was in seeing a smile again on the faces of the residents, many of them affected by DANA, if only for a few minutes.
“I was surprised by their kindness,” he said. “The queen has told me that she was very moved by the whole experience”. “ I feel very humbled.”
Photos courtesy of Casa de S.M. el Rey