The invisible enemy of La Palma behind the lava and ashes | Society


The lively atmosphere continues in the Plaza de Tajuya seven days after the La Palma volcano went to sleep. Groups of German tourists arriving on a cruise ship and brought here by bus take selfies in front of the newly born mass in the middle of the Cumbre Vieja mountain range. A little further on, a middle-aged patron named Alberto leans taciturnly on the railing that separates the square from the place reserved for the media. He gazes at the mountain absorbed, as if expecting him to wake up at any moment. “I come often and look at it,” he explains. “Even off the bug continues to impress. Like I can’t quite believe it’s over ”.

For three months, this square on the edge of the LP-3 highway has been erected as a meeting point for journalists, scientists, and tourists, to the anger of the neighbors, who have endured (sometimes without stoicism) the hundreds of badly parked cars that blocked their already complicated transit. Thousands of people have wandered its ground looking for the best angle to see the eruption. And in all this time, everyone has found the shelter of the Sagrada Familia Parish, the building that presides over the square.

“The volcano has taught us to be supportive, to be welcoming,” explains Domingo Guerra, “a 79-year-old young man” who has survived three eruptions and has been the parish priest of this congregation for 18 years. Like his parishioner Alberto, the priest feels “a contained joy.” Three months ago, he had the “idea on the fly” to open the church and allow free movement without any surveillance “so that people could have a service and we could welcome them.” In all this time, he emphasizes, the respect has been maximum: not a single damage or theft. “Now we want to go back to normal, I count the hours until they give the death certificate to this dragon.”

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This certificate is pending and, if nothing changes, it may be issued approximately on Christmas Day. It is when the period of 10 days expires that the Volcanic Emergency Plan of the Canary Islands (Pevolca) has been given to decree the end of an emergency that has resulted in 2,988 buildings affected and a dozen disappeared towns such as Todoque, El Paraíso, El Pampillo, El Pastelero, or the Callejón de la Gata. And with them, the evacuation of some 7,000 people, 2,329 of whom owned homes and land within the 1,219 hectares destroyed.

The Severo Rodríguez de Los Llanos de Aridane Municipal Pavilion, which during the volcanic eruption of La Palma became a donation and assistance center for those affected.
The Severo Rodríguez de Los Llanos de Aridane Municipal Pavilion, which during the volcanic eruption of La Palma became a donation and assistance center for those affected.DANIEL ROCA

The solidarity of which the priest Domingo Guerra spoke has been concentrated, fundamentally in two locations: the Severo Rodríguez sports center, in Los Llanos de Aridane, and the municipal soccer field in El Paso. This grassy field was the meeting point of the hundreds of evacuated residents that Sunday afternoon, September 19, in which the ground burst, and continues to serve as a logistics center for the distribution of hundreds of meals to the victims and the victims. emergency kits. 90 days later, the facilities still have not recovered their normal use, and the tracks of cars and vans on the grass are palpable proof that football will still take time to return.

Municipal soccer field of El Paso (La Palma).
Municipal soccer field of El Paso (La Palma).DANIEL ROCA

The invisible enemy

Despite the hibernation of the volcano, the danger has not completely passed. “That’s what we’re doing,” says Lieutenant Colonel José Alberto Gallegos, head of the Second Battalion of the Military Emergency Unit (UME) and head of the La Palma Tactical Group. “We try to make the public aware that this has not ended and that although the eruption is not reactivated, there is still an invisible enemy: gases.”

Since 19 September, the UME has cleaned roofs, assisted in evacuations and, in addition, has been the body in charge of carrying out measurements within the exclusion zone. Sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide … His work is not finished yet, says Gallegos. “There are points in the laundry where oxygen drops dramatically,” he says, citing as examples of this evacuated areas such as Puerto Naos or La Bombilla, areas where the laundry did not reach. The causes can be various (cracks, lava tube emanations …), and all of them will delay the return to normality of these localities. They continue to prevent, even, the entry of neighbors to the exclusion zones further south of the wash.

Two clients at the Cafeteria Mirador Time, in the Mountain of Time (Tazacorte), in La Palma.
Two clients at the Cafeteria Mirador Time, in the Mountain of Time (Tazacorte), in La Palma.DANIEL ROCA

No victory can be claimed yet. Despite this, the cessation of the eruption has already changed the lives of many. One of them is Juan Carlos Baños Lozano (58 years old), manager of the Mirador El Time Cafeteria (Tazacorte) for 25 years, another of the neuralgic points to observe both the volcanic cone and the evolution of the lava flows and its mouth into the sea in form of two lava deltas. “The experience has been very unpleasant,” he says. “Life treats me well, I have a job, my children are healthy, I have no financial problems … But these three months I have suffered from anxiety, and this is a feeling that I did not know.”

His business has been full day and night. Many of those who passed by were “friends of the Valley [de Aridane, zona que engloba a Los Llanos, El Paso y Tazacorte] those who have been taken home by the volcano ”, he recalls. “It has been a painful time, feeling the helplessness of not being able to do anything.” Baños’s anxiety was over when the volcano fell asleep. Many other palm trees are not so lucky. “It is now when it begins its own reconstruction,” he reflects.

The Pevolca corroborates “the exhaustion process” of the eruption

There are five days left for the eruption to end, as explained this Sunday by the Volcanic Emergency Plan of the Canary Islands (Pevolca). For now, fortunately, the stabilization of the volcano proceeds without visible alterations: “The observables, both direct on the surface and from the surveillance systems, corroborate the signs of exhaustion of the eruptive process,” the scientific committee says. In other words, the tremor (the sound signal left by magma and gases when ascending) is at the level of background noise; seismicity is of low magnitude and remains at very low levels at all depths, and the emission of sulfur dioxide has been low for five days. The small lava flow that was detected this Friday in the lava flows corresponds to a remnant of a volcanic tube, according to Pevolca.

The Pevolca, as usual, warns, however, that everything could change. “A new rebound in strombolian activity and emission of runoff cannot be ruled out,” he says in his scientific report.

With the end of the eruption comes the time of reconstruction. The Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, Reyes Maroto, and the President of the Government of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres, held a meeting this Sunday at the Parador de Turismo de La Palma with representatives of the island’s business sectors. A new package of measures called La Palma is reborn endowed with 27.3 million euros to support the self-employed and SMEs, especially those affected by the volcano, and contribute to promoting tourism on the island.

As reported by Industria in a statement, the plan includes an investment of 12.38 million euros for the recovery and promotion of tourism on the island, once the eruption of the volcano is terminated. Specifically, a line of tourist vouchers of 300 euros will be launched, articulated through virtual debit cards to stimulate trips to the island of La Palma throughout 2022.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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