When Christopher Columbus was on his fourth voyage to the “New World” his small fleet was anchored in a river in Panama when near disaster struck. I wrote about it in my book: http://www.amazon.com/Adversitys-Wake-Calamitous-Christopher-ebook/dp/B007XTYMXW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1371742365&sr=1-1&keywords=richard+philbrick
“One morning after a night of heavier than usual drenching rains we heard, far up the river, the low, rumbling sound of huge rocks crashing and grinding against each other and of giant trees falling into the water. The noise rapidly rose to a crescendo and everyone stood frozen in terror as a solid wall of water in the form of a wave about six feet high swept around the bend in the river and came barreling down upon our hapless fleet. It hit so fast there was no time to prepare for the impact by running a hawser ashore.
“Almost instantly one of our two anchor cables parted with a sound like a cannon shot and our remaining anchor began dragging through the muddy river bottom like a plow tilling a field. In no time at all our ship slammed into the Gallega which lay behind is with such force that her bowsprit ran through the rigging of our Bonaventure mizzen and it came crashing down over the side in a roar of splintering wood. The stout ropes of the rigging snapped as if made of nothing more substantial than darning thread.”
As my regular readers know, I live beside a small river here in Panama. Normally it looks like this:
That big rock is about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
I don’t have to see the river to know its state. I can generally tell that simply by the way it sounds. Naturally, when there’s been a heavy rain the river rises and even sitting inside the house playing around on the computer I can tell the water level is higher because the noise is louder. And I can also tell when it has been raining harder in the mountains to the north while the rain down here has been relatively light by the noise the river makes. Sometimes the river gets extremely high in a short time but I only know about it after it has happened, alerted by the sound. We’re in the rainy season, now, so the volume of river noise rises and falls daily, sometimes hourly.
Yesterday afternoon (6/19) I was sitting out in the shade of the back porch reading a book on my tablet. Looking up from my chair I have a clear view of the river. It was pretty much like you see in the video above. We’d had some rain, but not a lot here at the house. Thunder, though, rolled down from the mountains for over an hour. Then, like in the book excerpt, I heard a roaring sound approaching, getting louder by the second. When I looked up I saw a wall of water easily six feet high or more coming down the river like a freight train. It didn’t just sound angry, it looked angry. Trees that had been swept off the banks from somewhere way up in the hills rode the crest like lunatic surfers. Roots and branches clawed at the sky as if trying to escape their rush towards the Pacific Ocean below. In seconds that car-sized boulder disappeared. Huge spumes of spray shot skyward as the river swept over the rocks. The water rose so high, so fast, that it overflowed the banks up stream and cut a new path across the field on the other side. The noise was so loud as the river crested that neighbors two blocks away were drawn down to watch.
This is a video from two years ago that gives a pretty good idea of what it was like yesterday:
Here you can see how some of it has overflowed to the field on the other side: