Welcome to the Underwater “Town that Drowned”

Villa Epecuén

What was once a popular destination for the wealthy and famous people of Argentina is now known as The Town That Drowned. Completely flooded with water, today stands only ruins – and one resident who returned nearly 25 years later. (1)

Villa Epecuén: The Town that Drowned

Along the shore of the salty Lago Epecuén stands the ruins of Villa Epecuén. This once-thriving town of 1,500 residents and up to 5,000 occupants including tourists is a skeleton of its former self. (1)

Founded in 1921, the glory days of this wealthy vacationers’ hot spot just shy of 600km from Buenos Aires came to an abrupt end in 1985 when it became the town that drowned. (1, 3)

Healing Waters

In the summer months, this beautiful town housed around 25,000 tourists annually. (1) It was a great place for families, but also attracted those seeking the alleged healing powers of the lake’s salty waters. It was said the lake’s mineral waters could improve one’s skin and even heal rheumatic conditions. (3)

The lake was often compared to the Dead Sea for its so-called healing powers and further prompted tourists to come from far away to take a dip.(1)

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A Major Oversight

By the late 1970s, the town had 280 businesses. This included hotels, lodges, guesthouses, shops, and restaurants. (1)

While money was being funneled into expanding accommodations, no one paid much attention to the dam keeping the lake in place. (1) In November of 1985, the area began experiencing heavy rainfall. Rainfall like this was common, and the dam was filling up a bit higher each year. (3) This year in particular, however, was the final straw. A storm that made the waters particularly turbulent caused the dam to break. (1)

Water slowly flooded into the town and eventually covered the entire place in 10 meters-deep water by 1993. (3)

“We woke up with water up to our ankles. We packed up what we could and left. Everyone just assumed it would be temporary,” recalls Norma Berg, who grew up in Epecuén and was 19 when the flood happened. “People had been preparing for months for the upcoming summer season. Many had invested time and money in new fixtures and remodeling work. Those who could took absolutely everything with them, from their personal belongings to the kitchen sink,” (2)

Everyone was evacuated and the town was left completely abandoned. It was 25 years before the waters receded, leaving behind rusted cars, crumbled buildings, and a faint memory of an era gone by. (3)

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The Only Resident of The Town that Drowned

In 2009 one resident of the former 1500 returned to Epecuén to live. (1) Pablo Novak, who helped his father make the bricks that made up many of the town’s buildings, just couldn’t stay away. (1)

“Hotels had already bought everything for the summer season and hired the employees. The water broke in one night. I will never forget the sound of the water. A few days later authorities told us: ‘Take what you can carry, we need to leave town: Epecuén is going to disappear,’” he recalls of the event. (1)

Though many of the town’s former residents lost hope a long time ago, Novak still hopes that one day someone will come along and foot the bill to restore the town to at least some of its former magic. (1)

“I always thought it would revive, that’s the thing I find most difficult.I keep on hoping it will happen. But sadly no one seems to want to do anything.” (2)

Whether or not someone save his towns, Novak is not planning on going anywhere. While his kids don’t particularly like visiting the town, his 21 grandchildren love to look at his photos and hear his stories about life before the flood. For them, the town that drowned is a wondrous place. For Novak, it is home. (2)

“As long as I can walk and tell the story of my life, I will stay here in my ranchito.” he says. (1)

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