A desolate landscape is discovered after the Civil Guard allows the transit. It is the one in the exclusion zone of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, on La Palma. In a few kilometers, the lush trees that cover the route give way to deep ravines of centuries-old lava renewed by the pyroclastic mantle that the interior of the Earth has vomited again. Along the way they pass towns (Jedey, Las Manchas de Abajo, Las Hoyas) and all of them offer the same scene of houses abandoned in haste and covered by a new unwanted tenant: the ashes. In all of these areas, the roads have lost their shoulder lines for weeks. The bars, once a meeting point for the locals, are closed tight, some with tables still set on the terraces. The dense volcanic dust that has been floating from the eruptive cone has sunk the roofs of many of the many banana and avocado greenhouses; the branches of the vineyards are barely able to rise to the surface to breathe. And, in the background, the tireless roars of the cone.
This used to be, until 40 days ago, a quiet agricultural environment where rural tourism and vacation homes had proliferated. Now, the only people who pass through it are the Civil Guard, firefighters and technicians hired by the Government of the Canary Islands to install an improvised irrigation system. Sometimes a neighbor is seen collecting belongings. They are always accompanied. Enrique Pérez is one of those who has managed to enter his home on Camino Cabrejas. Last Monday, he was queuing before the Civil Guard control, boarded in his minivan taxi. “I intend to clean the ash in my grandmother’s house, who lives down there, and water the plants. But I fear what may find me. “
Down the road, as the coast approaches, the scene takes on apocalyptic overtones. Puerto Naos, the quintessential tourist town of Los Llanos de Aridane, now resembles one of those ghost towns from the old Western movies. This coastal area was a pioneer for La Palma’s tourist industry thanks to its frequent good weather and the greenness provided by the countless banana plantations. Little remains of that. Tourists and residents of the town were evacuated in an hour and a half as soon as the volcano detonated on September 19. A month and 10 days later, the streets are deserted; the premises, closed. On the floor, on railings and posters, the everlasting ash.
In this part of the sea, no one has soaked or sunbathed for a long time. Instead of bathers, the coast is occupied by the tanker that plans to provide emergency water to some 500 farmers in the area, who fear the loss of their plants. This boat is part of one of the five sources of emergency water generation to meet the needs of irrigators. The Minister of Ecological Transition, Fight against Climate Change and Territorial Planning of the Government of the Canary Islands, José Antonio Valbuena, explained this Wednesday that, between that day and Thursday, the forecast was to inject up to 6,000 square meters of water into the network, to its subsequent distribution by the Insular Water Council.
A few kilometers further west, the team of 10 firefighters from the Gran Canaria Consortium works piecework. They are exhausting days in which they carry out all kinds of support work within the exclusion zone of the La Palma volcano: cleaning, animal rescue, help with the emptying of houses, accompaniment.
This Wednesday it seemed that it was going to be such a day. Sad and exhausting like all of them, but without major shocks. The staff led by Francisco Bolaños was removing ashes from the houses on the Puerto Naos road, including the well-known Las Norias restaurant. After 5:00 p.m., the day totally changed. “When we were going up to the San Nicolás road [municipio de El Paso], we have seen that the laundry has broken, a finger has detached and has begun to advance to the southwest ”, says Bolaños, visibly nervous, amid the roars of the eruption. “It is going very fast and we are afraid that it will cut the road down to Puerto Naos.” Indeed, with the naked eye, about 500 meters to the northwest, the lava is devastating new constructions of Todoque at about 20 meters per hour. The Civil Guard agents who are guarding the visit to the exclusion zone that the Government of the Canary Islands has organized do not hide their nervousness and indicate the way back shortly before the deadline.
This lava is part of the alluvium that flowed from the volcano from the landslides registered in the volcanic cone last weekend, which increased the runoff. “We cannot act on this. Nature does what it wants, ”the firefighter resigned. “The only thing we have been able to do is notify WFP [Puesto de Mando Avanzado] and wait…”. The road to Puerto Naos by which the delegation has climbed is in danger, he warns. A day later, the road is still under threat. And, if the lava follows that path, even towns such as La Bombilla, at the foot of the coast, or Puerto Naos itself are threatened.
Juan Arturo San Gil is a familiar face for the palmeros. He is the veteran director of the local TV channel La Palma.com and a deep connoisseur of the geography, the towns and the people of La Palma. It serves as a guide for the group of journalists, most of them from outside the islands, to whom it also distributes jelly beans and nuts. “Less than two months ago I was eating in Puerto Naos, and look at it now …”, he laments. “My island looks like Sarajevo.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.