Monday, December 13. 22.21 hours. Silence comes to the Aridane Valley. The roar of the Cumbre Vieja volcano stops. That is the moment in which the members of the Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan (Pevolca) determine the extinction of the longest eruption in the history of La Palma and the most destructive of the last century in Europe. 85 days and 8 hours of devastation, restlessness, uncertainty and desolation. Now the Isla Bonita can begin to look to the future and start a recovery process with which to heal the wound that the volcano has caused in the economy, infrastructures and, above all, in the lives of the palm trees, who have seen how the lava has buried their homes, their livelihoods and their memories.
Since the land was cracked in the Cabeza de Vaca area on September 19, the institutions began to plan the reconstruction of the island. However, there is still no detailed roadmap, because the state of the area affected by the eruption is still unknown. When the evacuated families will be able to return to normality, where those who have been left homeless will live or what will happen to the ash are some of the questions that need to be answered to begin to move towards restoration.
The lava has devastated 1,219 hectares, which represents 1.72% of the surface of La Palma, and has generated two lava deltas, one of 43.46 hectares to the south of the eruption and another of 5.05 to the north. The competence over the wastes belongs to the Canarian Executive, but the Minister of Territorial Planning of the Cabildo de La Palma, Gonzalo Pascual, anticipates that the intention is to make scientific use compatible with tourist use, since the new orography of the island can be converted an attraction for both the scientific community and travelers. For his part, the technical director of Pevolca, Miguel Ángel Morcuende, details that there is still lava that is incandescent, so we have to wait for its temperature to drop and solidify but, in any case, he points out, “it is not something that have an easy solution in a short term. ” The head of the Office of Attention to Those Affected by the La Palma Volcano, Sergio Matos, points out that before making decisions, the cost involved in moving the volcanic material to recover the area must be assessed and considers that the points of interest, but not all the land covered by lava, because that way you could not even rebuild the roads.
Communications within the island have been affected because the lava has destroyed 73.8 kilometers of roads. “We have asked the Canarian Executive and the central government that the first route to be launched is the one that goes from Tazacorte to Puerto Naos, continuing to El Remo, and we have also asked that it reach Fuencaliente,” says Pascual. This road would regain the connection with the tourist center of Puerto Naos and would allow farmers to access the farms, which currently enter by sea. Morcuende stresses that the plan begins by using machinery to open the roads cut by the accumulation of ash. Something that until now has not been possible to carry out because the volcano continued to release pyroclasts until a few days ago. Tomorrow, lava will begin to be removed from the La Laguna junction, towards the road that connects Los Llanos de Aridane and Tazacorte.
370 hectares of crops have disappeared on La Palma and another 90 hectares have been completely isolated. The sector most affected is the banana tree, which has lost 228.69 hectares of plantations under the lava, to which are added another 414 hectares that have been buried under tons of ash. Agriculture is one of the main economic engines of the island, so the local administrations have already put a plan on the table that involves recovering the land for cultivation. “The houses can be located in one place or another, but the plantations go where they have to go”, highlights Pascual, who anticipates that the Cabildo is working on a macro occupation and reparcelling plan. “We have asked that the lava be eliminated and that all the plots be grouped, whether or not they are buried, to re-allocate them in the place closest to the one they were,” explains the Regional Minister of Territorial Planning and details that for this it will be necessary to spread out and sip the ground. The first step will be to build the access roads and restore the water and electricity supply connections.
According to the official count of the Cadastre, the lava has destroyed 1,676 buildings, of which 1,345 are homes. Matos estimates that there are between 1,000 and 1,200 families who have been able to lose their first and only residence, although it is not yet possible to specify the exact figure because it has not been possible to access some houses and it is unknown if they will meet the habitability conditions. So far only 18 families have been relocated. The Government of the Canary Islands expects that in the first weeks of January there will be 106 families in temporary houses and that during the first quarter of 2022 the modular homes will be built. “The three municipalities that make up the Aridane Valley have plenty of space to relocate residents who have lost their homes and avoid uprooting,” defends Pascual. However, he points out that it will be necessary to modify the general planning of the municipalities in order to build urban enclaves and rural settlements. For this, the intervention of the regional government will be essential, which, by decree law, must provide local administrations with executive tools so that bureaucratic procedures do not delay the adaptation of the norm.
Matos highlights that the main obstacle they are finding is that families who lived in rural environments reject the possibility of being rehoused in flats, but “the circumstances are what they are and we must try to look to the future and try to build new spaces and new stories ”. For the person in charge of the office that attends to those affected by the volcano, the important thing is to avoid the uprooting of the population with La Palma, so that the island does not lose population, and recognizes that “tell people that within a year or two of them are going to be at home, it would be lying to them, because new neighborhood designs have to be made and we don’t know what we will find under the lava ”.
Before the houses that are buried under the ash can be accessed, the technicians will have to verify that the structures have resisted and that the houses can be returned safely. The Military Emergency Unit (UME) has carried out cleaning tasks in the areas that were in danger and they have removed the ash from the roofs to prevent the roofs from collapsing. This task was initially assumed by the neighbors, but later it was undertaken with specialized teams.
The amount of ash that the Cumbre Vieja volcano has expelled is unbearable. It is impossible to store it in a closed space to prevent it from being scattered by the action of the wind. In the medium term, it may have benefits for agriculture because it is assumed by the subsoil, but there are areas in which several meters of ash have been deposited that are unaffordable by the ground. “At the moment it is seen as a problem, but in the long term it could be an opportunity”, defends Pascual. One of the solutions that have been proposed is to use it as a construction material and take advantage of it in the reconstruction process. Although, there is an added difficulty, because the block factory located in Callejón de la Gata is under lava. “Right now we do not have the necessary infrastructure to reuse it and transporting it to another island to treat it would be very expensive, so we have to find a way to enable the necessary industry to give it a useful outlet,” says the Regional Minister of Land Management.
Although the eruption has ended, the danger persists due to the presence of gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO). For this reason, Morcuende insists on the need to ventilate the houses because there may be retention of toxic vapors that can even move through old connections that are broken. “The return to the houses will depend on eliminating these dangers to people’s health,” says the technical director of Pevolca. Tomorrow the rehousing plan will begin to be studied, which will be “safe, orderly, gradual and gradual.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.