WorldA kitchen with a view of hell: what it's like to live...

A kitchen with a view of hell: what it’s like to live under the threat of the volcano of La Palma engulfing your home

Anxiety runs through the veins of 39-year-old Tuquelia Gómez. The windows in her house have shaken so often these past few days that she can’t get the noise out of her head. The paintings on the wall sway like a horror movie, and the volcano’s explosions, especially those at night, keep you awake. She doesn’t rest. As he shows us one of the rooms —from where it is possible to see the lava descending—, his anguish is patent. “I am not well. That way you can’t live. I don’t want to leave because this is my house, but I don’t want it that way.” She speaks without looking directly into the eyes as her gaze is fixed on the volcano. Tuquelia watches him intently while biting her nails. “He is destroying our lives. I cried many times while he swallowed houses that I don’t even know whose they are”, she says from the balcony, high in the hills of Tacande, in the municipality of El Paso, where almost 20% of the 7,000 evacuees in La Palma (Spain) lived.

The surrounding houses and streets are silent. The nearest exclusion zone is less than a kilometer away. Many residents left their homes preventively because they no longer felt safe. Tuquelia, her husband Jorge Calero, 40, and their daughter, almost four, resist. The desolation of the place is felt on the terrace. A sweeping landscape of black mountains spews smoke in what was once a valley full of pine trees. Jorge shows a photo of his wife in the place now occupied by one of the volcano’s mouths. It was in July. He wore sportswear and posed with an amused expression. In this place now there is a mountain of lava that already reaches 200 meters in height. “We will not live to see these fertile lands again. What we are left with is this. I just ask that the volcano doesn’t take [minha casa]”, says Tuquelia.

It’s almost time to eat, but everything is dark, the sky is covered with black clouds of ash, and as the day progresses the rumblings intensify. “It makes me angry, I was very calm for a few days now, it’s like an animal that deceives you and then destroys everything again”, says Tuquelia. What the senses perceive, the noise, the lack of clarity and a smell similar to that of burnt rubber, make the body run away. The feeling of threat is constant.

Jorge Calero, Tuquelia Gómez and the couple’s daughter at their home in the Tacande neighborhood, in the municipality of El Paso (Spain). Álvaro García (EL COUNTRY)

Driving along the road, Hartmut Boog, a 70-year-old German who has lived on the island six months a year for 23 years, listens to the radio while organizing tools in a garage he has turned into a workshop. The view of the volcano, from the inside and also from the outside, is impressive, it seems that with just a few steps you can get very close. He’s all messed up, but as a forward-thinking person, he has two suitcases packed by the door. “They’ll let us know at any time,” he says, holding a cigar, which he puts back into his mouth. He’s not afraid to live so close to the volcano, he just got a little nervous in the first few days because of the continuous earthquakes.

At the bottom of the house are the kitchen and bedroom in a kind of semi-basement. “I see the volcano lying on the bed.” He has metastasis to his kidney and shows off a backpack full of medication. “Morphine helps me a lot,” he says, mixing a few words in Spanish and English. He spends a lot of time in this room, where there is also a kitchen and a table. Have breakfast, lunch and dinner overlooking the lava and continuous explosions. He shows many videos that he recorded at night and that he sends to his family in Hannover. “I’m not in a hurry to leave, but I don’t want to see the lava coming through the window.”

David Barrios, resident of Tacande, in El Paso (Spain), in his bathroom.
David Barrios, resident of Tacande, in El Paso (Spain), in his bathroom. Alvaro Garcia

Ash began to rain. It’s not a powder, it’s small stones that are embedded in the scalp and stick to the skin. It’s impossible to walk without plastic goggles. A few meters from a police station blocking the way, David Barrios and Nieves Castro, his wife, shovel the ashes off his roof.

It is a modern construction, with a white facade and wooden beam parts. A few weeks ago they managed to get some friends to borrow a house in Garafía, in the north of the island. “The air quality doesn’t seem adequate for our two young daughters, we transferred them to another school and moved, sorry about the mess,” says David. The room is half dismantled, with a mattress resting on the sofa. The girls, who slept downstairs, were scared, didn’t want to be alone and had to be installed in the living room, next to the couple’s bedroom. The younger girl started having nightmares.

“Living here is impossible, my wife started with symptoms of stress, the whole house was moving, we are very close to him”, he says, looking at the volcano. He starts counting and when it reaches seven there is a loud explosion. “That’s how you measure the expansive wave distance.” Nieves, who is an astrophysicist, knows the science behind the phenomenon. Maybe that’s why they decided to leave. It is unpredictable and that did not allow them to live calmly. Every two days they return to the house to remove ashes. If the ash reaches more than six centimeters in height, there is a danger of the roofs collapsing. “We’ve been kind of a nomadic life these days,” says David, wiping beads of sweat off his forehead. They work fast, they want to leave as soon as possible. They don’t let one of the daughters out into the yard. The situation is tense, it seems that a tornado is approaching.

Nights are no longer pleasant for 67-year-old Juan Rodríguez. He gets out of bed an average of three times “to see how he goes”. Contradictory messages have arrived on your cell phone, that you are about to be removed from the area, that the lava from the new mouth that emerged this week is heading for your street… Your house was an old school that your grandfather abandoned in 1905, when went to Cuba. In the 1980s, Juan remodeled it and found a blackboard with words written in chalk. “It has a lot of sentimental value for us, we don’t want to lose it”, he says. The lava took away another house they had in Tazacorte and a land with banana plantations.

Carmen, his wife, every morning when he opens the door, he smells sulfur. “It’s not a rotten egg smell, as they say, it’s something more chemical.” They had to get used to living with permanent tremors and bangs. “What do we do? We have nowhere to go, I hope the nerves don’t kill us.”

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