WorldThe drama after the lava of the volcano in the Canaries: “It's...

The drama after the lava of the volcano in the Canaries: “It’s very hard, the houses disappear before our eyes”


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“The situation is too much… This is very serious, very, very hard.” The mayor of Los Llanos de Aridane, Spain, saw this Tuesday as the lava tongue of the volcano Cumbre Vieja, which erupted on Sunday, penetrated the town of Todoque (1,300 inhabitants) in its slow and inexorable advance towards the sea. “We are overloaded,” said the mayor. In the afternoon, the situation worsened and the ash rain intensified throughout the municipality. In the background, always present, the continuous explosions and the roar of the volcano.

“The situation is catastrophic in the Aridane Valley”, confirms the president of the Cabildo (insular administration), Mariano Hernández Zapata. “It’s very hard, very complex what we’re living through, the houses literally disappear before our eyes.” And he says: “We are deeply distressed, powerless in the face of what is happening.”

Evictions have become a common situation in most of the towns of Llanos de Aridane, through whose territory a river of lava flows that threatens homes and businesses. Unrest also continues in El Paso, where the eruption took place. “We live in a continuous nervousness”, says a group of residents of the city, gathered on the soccer field — a land that last Sunday served to concentrate the first homeless, and which is now used as a food distribution center for the victims.

Sergio Rodríguez, mayor of El Paso, on the soccer field there, on the island of La Palma. Samuel Sanchez

Mayor Sergio Rodríguez describes the uncertainty of its residents. “The volcano keeps releasing material, the lava keeps expanding, and that’s why it’s impossible to make a diagnosis. Today I haven’t seen a house that was still standing yesterday.” Altogether, estimates Rodríguez, the number of houses devoured by the volcano reaches almost 200, and the president of the Cabildo does not rule out that the final figure will rise to half a thousand when the lava reaches the sea.

Todoque’s eviction was the most striking throughout Tuesday. But not the only one. The cut streets multiply in villages across the island, with the National Police, the Civil Guard and municipal agents controlling all access.

Late Tuesday afternoon, security forces allowed residents to return to their homes in Puerto Naos and La Laguna —but only for a minimum time, until 7 pm sharp, to collect what was essential, and always accompanied. “These are orders from above,” says Pedro Cuesta, chief inspector of the National Police and coordinator of the 10th Police Intervention Unit.

This is the case of Manuela and Francisco, an octogenarian couple from La Laguna, who, under a drizzle of ashes, were accompanied by Civil Defense agents to their property. “Our whole life is in there”, they say, crying to the agents, who repeat to them, in an empathetic tone, that they can only take what is indispensable.

“We are still in an emergency situation,” said on Tuesday the president of the Spanish government (prime minister), Pedro Sánchez. The technical director of the Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan (Pevolca), Miguel Ángel Morcuende, confirmed the situation to Europa Press. The scientific committee calculates that the lava advances at 120 meters per hour, rather than 700, as initially estimated. The material flows through two languages, one of which, located in Las Manchas to the southwest, has “minimal movement,” just about two meters per hour, and Pevolca’s scientific committee thinks it unlikely to reactivate.

The other language is the one that moves inexorably downhill and entered Todoque this Tuesday, playing its church in the afternoon. This torrent of lava is fed, moreover, by the new mouth that opened last Monday night and forced the eviction of residents of Tacande, in El Paso.

Inés Galindo, a researcher at the Instituto Geológico e Minerador in Spain, notes that these explosions are not necessarily a symptom of the volcano’s increased violence. In his opinion, Cumbre Vieja is recording episodes of intense (explosive) Strombolian activity, “which is completely normal”, and for the most part it remains “stable”. Strombolian volcanisms are characterized by explosive eruptions separated by periods of calm of variable duration.

European aid

In the early afternoon, the president (governor) of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres, tried to send a reassuring message to the population of the island of La Palma, taking for granted the arrival of solidarity resources from the European Union. Speaking after the Pevolca meeting and in the presence of Sánchez, he explained that the activation of these mechanisms, in the case of the EU’s outermost regions (as in the Canary Islands), occurs when losses exceed 1% of local GDP, which in this case would be equivalent to 400 million of euros (almost 2.5 billion reais), “a figure that, unfortunately, we will have to spare”, he said. In any case, the aid will not be enough to compensate for the loss of homes of nearly 200 families.

“The first area affected was El Paraíso,” reports Mayor Sergio Rodríguez at a table on the soccer field. “Initially we thought it would be saved, but in the part closest to Los Llanos it ended up being affected.” Outside, in the parking lot of the soccer field, María Rodríguez, 58, a resident of this neighborhood, wanders around, worried. “My house is first of all, attached to the mountain, up there”, she says nervously. “I don’t know what happened to her… I get worried about looting and I think: so what if she saves herself? Am I going to stay there alone, surrounded by lava and all these bad memories?”

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