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The village that re-emerged
July 26, 2011 1:18 PM   Subscribe

AFP photographer Juan Mabromata recently visited the ruins of Villa Epecuén in Argentina, a small touristic village that started slowly re-surfacing after the rising waters of the nearby lake left it completely underwater nearly 26 years ago.

In the 1920s Villa Epecuén was established at the shores of Lake Epecuén, a salt water endorheic lake frequented by folks from the city of Buenos Aires looking to bathe in its waters and benefit from the high salinity's supposed healing powers.

Final recipient of an interconnected group of ponds, the Epecuén would increase and decrease its size in cycles, according to variations in the rainfall regime. The water level increased gradually since the foundation and by 1978 an embankment had to be built to protect the village from the rising waters. On November 10th 1985 the levee couldn't hold back the water anymore and the village was slowly flooded. It took sixteen days until the water left the whole city underwater, and it eventually reached a depth of 10 meters in 1993.

The water started receding some years ago, and you can walk around parts of the city nowadays, and even speak with the only person that went back to live in the desolate village. (MLYT, in spanish, unfortunately.)
posted by palbo (18 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by Aizkolari at 1:25 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Atlas Earth Shrugged.
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:30 PM on July 26, 2011


Photo #16 is a perfect example of the long-term problem with plastics as explained in The World Without Us. Most of the car is almost dissolved, but those tires look almost perfect. Nothing eats plastic.
posted by odinsdream at 1:41 PM on July 26, 2011


Urban planning is serious business.
posted by punkfloyd at 1:51 PM on July 26, 2011


that is goddamned incredible.
posted by Think_Long at 1:57 PM on July 26, 2011


What a haunting, beautiful set of photographs.

I come from a family with two storied drowned homesteads—both belonging to my namesake, Joseph Belknap Smith, a Northerner from Haverhill, Massachusetts who lived briefly on an island on the Hudson that was always referred to as "Camelot" in the family, and rowed to work in Manhattan each day. Camelot was actually mined out of existence, I believe for gypsum, if memory serves, but the homestead Smith set up in Wilkes County, Georgia after being instructed by his physician to move south for his health went the way of many riverside houses in the path of twentieth century progress.

The Army Corps of Engineers came through, laid out their plans, and in those days, you just shrugged and moved on, so in the fifties the waters of Clarks Hill Lake (I'll be ding-damned if I ever call it by its post-1988 name) rose over the stripped foundation and tree stumps around the old place, and the family legends grew with every year. Our family cemetery survived, though, being up a little hill from the house, and my cousins maintain it with great care to this day, with new stones rising as the older generation escapes us. We finally badgered the Corps into improving access with a dirt road, but for decades, to visit the cemetery and it's presiding obelisk over my namesake's resting place, you had to paddle across the lake in a boat.

As a kid, I was transfixed by the thought that the whole house was down there, hidden in the murky water of the reservoir, and when my relatives would point out that we were just about over where the river house was, I'd hang over the side of the boat, desperately trying to make out what I expected to be the ghostly frame of a once-stately home place, but I never could see it. Instead, there was this burgeoning love of the mythic, lost, magical quality of that place, and the way everyone told stories about the river house just made it so…perfect, a spark to start a crackling bonfire of light and wonder. I dreamed about the river house for years, and pondered the connection between loss and a revered, treasured memory.

Years later, when I was grown, a long series of droughts hit the lake, and the foundations, tree stumps, and shadows of the myriad outbuildings that Southerners produce with a kind of unstoppable architectural glee emerged, drying out into a powdery map of what used to be, and though I should have been disappointed, it was a wonderful moment. Standing in the center of the old place, surrounded by my older cousins who played there as children, pointing out lost trees and familiar hiding places with fingers as knobby and gnarled as old branches, I listened to every story and every detail, and though there was the sense of loss that it'd gone, it was still there for them, too, standing in ghostly perfection, different eras and memories layered up all around me, even better than I'd always hoped it would be.

Then, the water returned, and took it back, but we'd had a chance to step into that lost age for a brief moment, and when we picnic beside the wrought iron fence around the cemetery these days, you can look down the hillside at those placid waters and know it's down there. There's a reason why myths about drowned churches with bells tolling underwater and sunken continents are so powerful, and Villa Epecuén may yet take on its own mythical force as the centuries roll on.

Just wonderful. Thank you.
posted by sonascope at 2:08 PM on July 26, 2011 [46 favorites]


Photo #16 is a perfect example of the long-term problem with plastics as explained in The World Without Us. Most of the car is almost dissolved, but those tires look almost perfect. Nothing eats plastic.

Um, I don't disagree with your general post-apocalyptic point, but most car tires are made of rubber.
posted by googly at 2:25 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


After reading sonascope's comment, I feel like a prick for pointing this out. I'm not worthy...
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:27 PM on July 26, 2011


After reading sonascope's comment, I feel like a prick for pointing this out. I'm not worthy...

You know what they say about argentinians and their egos.
posted by palbo at 2:31 PM on July 26, 2011


Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

- Ariel in William Shakespeare's The Tempest (Act I, Scene ii)
posted by benito.strauss at 2:49 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for sharing that part of your history sonascope, beautifully written and evocative.
posted by tomswift at 2:50 PM on July 26, 2011


Nothing eats plastic ... most car tires are made of rubber.

I refrained from making this remark because while technically rubber isn't plastic, the process of vulcanization creates a product that is much closer in both chemistry and behavior to plastics than to the stuff that oozes from a rubber tree, and I suspect that if there was no such thing as natural rubber and synthetic rubber had been synthesized after the creation of other plastics like polyethylene, we would consider rubber a type of plastic. The basic problem of nothing in the ecosystem being able to eat the stuff to recycle it is the same for the same reasons.
posted by localroger at 4:04 PM on July 26, 2011


No J.G. Ballard jokes? Guys!
posted by vhsiv at 5:30 PM on July 26, 2011


Great photos, salt water will really screw up your environment in large enough quantities.
posted by arcticseal at 6:48 PM on July 26, 2011


Spectacular set, but it had a bit of a salt-encrusted sameness about it by picture 4. More before/after photos would have been nice.

Can an industrial chemist type help me out:

What happened to the buildings? Staircases to nowhere. Large concrete structures clearly not where they used to be. Top stories of two story buildings simply gone. The FPP says the waters "slowly" flooded the town, so there wasn't an initial tsunami-like force, and I can't imagine there would have been any waves or strong tides over the years. Can salt water do all that?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:03 PM on July 26, 2011


Um, I don't disagree with your general post-apocalyptic point, but most car tires are made of rubber.

Thanks to localroger for the more detailed correction - the vulcanization process is what the book refers to, and I incorrectly referred to this as plastic.
posted by odinsdream at 7:08 PM on July 26, 2011


Can salt water do all that?


I'm going to guess the heavy salt concentration penetrated cracks and attacked the rebar embedded within the concrete. The expanding rust then fractured the concrete like moistened wood spikes used to split stone slabs in ancient quarries.

You see the same thing happening, albiet much more slowly, to highway overpasses in northern cimates due to wintertime salting of icy roads.
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:21 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


odinsdream writes "Photo #16 is a perfect example of the long-term problem with plastics as explained in The World Without Us."

Same long term problem with concrete, glass, ceramics, bricks and even some metals. I imagine high grade stainless steel or admiralty brass for example is going to be around for a very long time since the only "natural" degradation force is simple erosion.
posted by Mitheral at 2:47 PM on July 27, 2011


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