Since 1632, history records great floods in Pernambuco. Some reached large proportions, while others were smaller, but all of them had caused a lot of damage to the population. After the 1970 floods, there was pressure on the state and federal governments to take measures to protect Recife from flooding.
One of these measures was the construction of dams. In 1973, the Tapacurá dam was inaugurated and the population believed that this alone would be the solution to avoid flooding. However, to everyone’s surprise, there was a huge flood in 1975, considered as the greatest calamity of the century.
It happened between July 17 and 18, and 80% of Recife’s population was affected, 25 municipalities near the Capibaribe River basin were also hit, 107 people died, and thousands were left homeless. Railroads were destroyed, bridges collapsed, houses were carried away. Recife was cut off from the rest of the country by land for two days.
When the water began to recede, people were physically and psychologically weakened, but slowly begun to assess the damage and resume their lives. It was under these conditions that in July 21, around 10 o'clock in the morning, a rumor spread that the Tapacurá dam (which has the capacity to accumulate 94 million cubic meters of water and suffered nothing from the flood) had burst, and the city would be destroyed by the waters in a few hours.
“Tapacurá has burst!” The anonymous alarm caused panic throughout Recife and the city went mad. The scream echoed across the population, the rush began from one side to the other in search of relatives and friends to flee or die together. Drivers shouted to pedestrians: “Run! The dam has burst!” Some people were running in the city-suburb direction, others in the suburb-city direction. Some climbed trees, others climbed to the top floors of buildings, and many simply left the service positions in shops, offices, and even banks. Stores, schools and government offices became empty.
The Hospício Street became a real mess. Lines of buses were breaking up. Men and women left the Social Security office where they were waiting to be assisted and, still holding their identification cards, ran over each other on the stairs of nearby buildings trying to find a safe place.
Cars speeded on the wrong side of the streets. Buses were invaded outside bus stops by distressed people, while terrified passengers jumped out the windows. Pretty nervous women screamed with their hands outstretched in the air. “Save yourself if you can!”.
In Avenida Caxangá, that parallels Capiberibe River for seven kilometers there was a huge confusion. Thousands of people were running from one side to the other, fighting for places in cars and buses. Many of them had their headlights on and honked their horns while going in the opposite direction of the traffic.
Pedestrians begged for a ride without knowing the destination of the vehicle, only to get away from there. And from the side streets, crowds of alarmed people came out, carrying clothes, television sets, gas canisters, mattresses. The madness was such that even hospital patients went out, some dressed in their characteristic clothes to join the fleeing masses.
Cleudson Barros de Oliveira, recently arrived from the city of Salvador-BA, was working in the Bonfim Company, which was located in the old Bus Station, near the Cinco Pontas viaduct. When he heard that Tapacurá had burst, he ran with his colleagues to the top of the viaduct. However, thinking that the viaduct would probably fall with the force of the waters, they decided to go down. Then, thinking that they might drown, they climbed back up again, remaining up and down completely disoriented.
Several other dramatic situations occurred: the housewife Fátima Aleixo, a resident of Francisco de Paula Machado Street in Cordeiro, cried for help in hysteria crisis, while everyone in the street ran without looking back; Joana Gomes de Andrade, with one bare foot and the other with shoes on, and her daughter Carmelita, with the clothes she was washing in her hand, also ran, as did Dora, with a box of groceries she had just bought on her head. It was a matter of life or death with people running with what they could get with their hands, there was no time for logical thinking.
The governor of the state, José Francisco de Moura Cavalcanti was taking care of actions to assist the municipalities in which he had decreed a state of public calamity as a result of the floods. When he heard those news, he called Colonel Geraldo Pereira de Lima, head of the Military House, to find out what was going on.
He communicated with the administration of the dam, and the situation was found to be normal. The governor went to the middle of the confusion, in front of the Central Student Directory at Hospício Street. Students were crying in agitation. The governor told them that the news about the dam were not true, if Tapacurá had burst, he would not be there at that moment. The students calmed down and went to the streets shouting to the people that the news about the Tapacurá dam bursting was false as it was a rumor and everything was fine.
However, only after insistent bulletins disclosed by the radio and television stations, some of them made by the governor himself denying the rumor, did the city life reordered itself little by little.
Today, the story of the Tapacurá dam seems to pertain to folklore. Nevertheless, people who participated in that event almost always have a tragicomic story to tell.
Recife, July 13, 2006.
ENCHENTE e pânico. Disponível em: http://www.pe-az.com.br/. Acesso em: 5 maio 2006.
FONSECA, Homero. Tapacurá; o dia em que o Recife enlouqueceu. In: MENEZES, Fernando (Coord.). Recife: paixão e tragédia. 2.ed. Recife: PROPEG, 2000.
JC On-Line. Especial 80 anos. Disponível em: http://www2.uol.com.br. Acesso em: 5 maio 2006.
TAPARURÁ estourou. Disponível em: http://www.pe-az.com.br/. Acesso em: 5 maio 2006.
how to quote this text
OLIVEIRA, Maria do Carmo. Tapacurá has burst!! In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2006. Available at: https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/en/artigo/tapacura-has-burst//. Accessed on: mês dia ano. (Ex.: ago. 6 2009)