The village of Epecuén, a once vibrant tourist destination about 350 miles from Buenos Aires met its demise in 1985 when the town began to slowly, but steadily sink below the surface. Though no lives were lost in the tragedy, thousands of residents were forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods in search of a new place to live. The village had been mostly forgotten when recently, newly built canals have caused it to emerge from its resting place, revealing a time capsule of the sunken village.
Developed in the 1920’s, tourists from around the globe would visit Epecuén for the Laguna de Epecuén, or nearby lake. Reminiscent of the Dead Sea, Laguna de Epecuén contains 10 times more salt than ocean water. Such high salinity was believed by both tourists and locals alike to be restorative for skin and help with circulation, and many would travel great lengths to bathe in its waters. At the height of its popularity, the village was capable of accommodating up to 5,000 visitors.
A canal meant to prevent such flooding was initially built in the 1970’s, but was abandoned before completion due to political strife in the area. 1985 saw more rain than usual for the area, and after one particularly heavy rainstorm, the dams protecting the village could finally take no more. It began to flood at a rate of one inch per hour and two weeks later, Epecuén was 6 feet underwater. No residents died as a result, but most had to abandon their property in the town. Even more heartbreaking, the flood caused coffins from the nearby graveyard to come to the surface, with residents having few options to do anything about it. By 1991, the village was a whopping 33 feet underwater.
Since then, the area has become increasingly hotter and drier. Combined with new canals in the area, the village of Epecuén eventually rose to the surface. Old automobiles are once beautiful buildings are now once again on dry land, and people are beginning to return to the village, not for the salt lake, but to see the relics of the tourist town.
Former residents feel uneasy about the prospect of the town becoming a tourist attraction “ghost town” as its reemergence only brings back painful memories of their loss. Only one former resident, Pablo Novak, has returned to make this village of Epecuén his home once more.