On September 19, 2021, at 3:12 p.m. in the Canary Islands, the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on the island of La Palma. A volcano that still has no name and which, due to its strength, dominance and power, the palmeros nicknamed ‘The Lord’.
That day, the bowels of the earth opened to give way to the lava that snakes, incandescent, in the depths of the Islands. The last of the eruptions that has made them emerge from the bottom of the sea, lasted for 88 long days. And he gobbled up, day after day, everything that stood in his way: homes, banana plantations, animal farms or industrial buildings. In total, more than 3,000 buildings located in the Aridane Valley, the most productive agricultural area on La Palma.
The spectacle of nature gave way to the sadness of the 7,000 affected who lost their homes, their classrooms, their squares, their churches or their cemetery. Entire neighborhoods were buried under lava flows up to 40 meters high. And later under a blanket of ash that darkened, even more, the mood of the more than 83,000 inhabitants of the island.
But magma and sadness was not the only thing that arose from the bowels of the earth. Almost with the same force, a wave of solidarity also sprouted from within so many people from different corners of the world who empathized with the stories that, day after day, came to them from La Palma. Testimonies of loss and overcoming, told in the first person by their own affections; but also of help and solidarity, transmitted by those who started them, benefited from or witnessed them, during the evacuation or eviction processes that occurred during those days of noise and fire.
Empathy with those affected
The altruism and dedication of the palm tree society surprised locals and strangers. Neighbors like Héctor Lorenzo or members of the emergency teams like Marc Tor, among many others, shared their impressions on the SER network’s antenna during the almost months of the volcanic crisis: “You see yourself surrounded by people you don’t know, who have been voluntarily added without asking. People who gave everything for free, heroes without capes who dedicated their free time to help others. ” “Nobody asks, they come from other evictions, they stop and start to load … And you are loading a refrigerator and where there were four of us suddenly there are sixteen. I was impressed: the least is to pay homage to kindness, altruism and the Solidarity”. “Clothes began to arrive from everywhere and during the evictions trucks appeared as if they were a convoy to help people. For every victim you saw twenty volunteers; there were more people helping than affected. It was incredible!”
There is a before and after of this volcano for La Palma, which Marc summarizes graphically: “When I came from Madrid to the island, I had to look for it on the map to know where I was going as a firefighter for the forest brigades. Now I thank the The destiny of having known the other side of this society: the essence of what the palmeros are has now been seen “.
It refers to the resilience with which the palm trees have reacted to the adversity that the latest eruption has brought. Their ability to overcome it comes from behind, when many of them emigrated to Venezuela and returned, years later, to invest in their homeland (especially in the Aridane Valley). Affected like Ana and Olga, who live in a caravan on the highest hill of Los Llanos de Aridane along with other residents of the disappeared neighborhoods of Las Manchas and Todoque, they were also surprised by the wave of collective improvement of their people: “This It is very hard, a lot of people stopped to help us and a friend comes to collect my clothes every week to wash them… All this has made us cry many times with hope and joy. We knew that we were already like this, but now we have given ourselves account of many more things “.
Beyond the island borders, the story of those affected moved citizens from different places. And from the big cities to the most remote corners, solidarity initiatives arose in classrooms, in town halls, in cafeterias, in shops or in stadiums. Thanks to them, students from La Palma who lost their schools received thousands of letters of support from students from other distant schools; numerous artists organized concerts and sang around the island and elite or grassroots athletes played, ran or mobilized to raise funds for La Palma.
Another tourism is possible
The Cumbre Viaje volcano, which will be officially turned off on December 25, has removed the so-called ‘Isla Bonita’ from anonymity, one of the eight that make up the Canarian Archipelago and that has resisted, like no other, to open its hand to mass tourism: before the eruption it had 47 tourist accommodations that amounted to just 3,330 lodging places. And in pre-COVID times, its visitor record never exceeded 300,000 tourists, despite having an airport with a much larger capacity.
Eminently agricultural, La Palma lives largely thanks to the community subsidy to the banana sector. Now, the losses of its economic engine and its new tourism potential are leading the palm trees to rethink the need to diversify their economy. The president of the hoteliers of Spain, Jorge Marichal from Tenerife, sums up the dilemma facing the island with the following reflection: “La Palma is an island too big to be small and too small to be big. We have to take advantage of the new opportunities that open up: Who in the world doesn’t know now that there is an island called La Palma and it has a volcano? “
A science without borders or flags
In reality, the latest eruption on La Palma has changed both the perception that its inhabitants had of tourism and of the volcanoes themselves. In 1941, thousands and thousands of palm trees came to see the eruption of the Teneguía to enjoy the spectacle of nature. But that “friendly volcano”, which did not harm anyone, gave way to ‘The Lord’ fifty years later: the great destroyer that led the island’s inhabitants to specify that “this is not a show, this is a tragedy “.
From a scientific point of view, the volcanic phenomenon on La Palma brought together more than 90 experts on the island, from 35 foreign research centers from 15 different countries. Hence, the scientific coordinator of the Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands (INVOLCAN), Nemesio Pérez, speaks of a science without borders or flags, which has punctually studied the most monitored volcano in the world.
The island volcanologist has also reflected thus: “Without science there is no future, but without volcanoes there are no Canaries”. And perhaps this has been the most surprising thing about this volcanic crisis for the Canaries themselves, discovering how the process of creating the islands they inhabit has been. Look at each of its beaches, rocky coasts, mountains, valleys or calderas and imagine that they are the result of a violent combination of fire, lava, ash and noise. The silence, for the moment, has returned … until the next eruption.