Confined on La Palma: as in the worst days of the pandemic, but with explosions and ash rain

The silence and emptiness in the streets of the San Borondón, Marina Alta and Baja and La Condesa neighborhoods are reminiscent of the hardest days of confinement due to the coronavirus pandemic. With two fundamental differences: the constant and thunderous explosions of the La Palma volcano and an incessant rain of ash that seeps through any gap and soaks into hair and clothing. The local bar, until two days ago the meeting place, is closed. On the door, pasted with cellophane, a handwritten notice: “I cannot open it at the moment, I will try a little later. Thank you and excuse me! Cathaysa ”. It is signed by its owner, of 000 years ago, who just two days ago assured that it was “going to open while I could”.

Enrique Pons de 56 años, vecino del barrio de San Borondón del municipio de Tazacorte, carga las cosas en su coche para abandonar el barrio por estar confinados y con miedo de lo que pueda hacer la lava.
Enrique Pons from 56 years old, a neighbor of the San Borondón neighborhood of the municipality of Tazacorte, loads things in his car to leave the neighborhood due to being confined and afraid than lava can do. Kike Rincon / Kike Rincón

The 300 neighbors who resided in these four neighborhoods of the coastal municipality of Tazacorte have closed the door, and many of them have decided not to open it again for the moment. This is the case of Enrique Pons, a resident of San Borondón, a native of Vic (Barcelona), who is putting the essentials in his car to go with his family to the capital, Santa Cruz de la Palma, on the other side of the island. “I’m leaving because the ash cloud is getting higher and higher. And who knows if the gases are going to come from there ”, he assures, pointing in the direction of the missing Guirres beach, about four kilometers by road, where the wash met the sea on Tuesday night. In his building, he says without a mask, there are few people left. “The thing is that in this area there is a lot of holiday tourism and only some lifelong neighbors.”

One of the people who has stayed is María Pilar Rodríguez, from 79 years, who lives with her husband and one of the three daughters of the marriage who are still alive. “We take it fatally,” he assures, leaning against the doorjamb. “Every time worse. My husband suffers from the lungs and we are locked up. It is the same as when the pandemic, and on top of that we have had recent deaths in the family. This is a drama. ”

The same anxiety suffers Antonia María Martín, a smiling elderly woman from the Marina Baja neighborhood, who boldly sweeps the sidewalk that leads to her door. “I’m really bad,” he says despite his smile. “The psychologist comes here every week,” he explains without letting go of the broomstick. They recently removed a kidney and assures that it has “been bad after the operation.” Now she lives at home with her husband and the only unmarried child of the four she has. “I do not leave here at all, I send them to buy from them … It was not much to leave before, but now less.” And sentence: “I only ask God that this volcano stops at once.”

Delta formado por la lava saliendo al mar en la costa de Tazacorte, en La Palma, en una fotografía tomada este jueves.
Delta formed by lava rising into the sea off the coast of Tazacorte, in La Palma, in a photograph taken this Thursday.

Martín is going to have to be patient. The spokesmen of the Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan (Pevolca) have shown this Wednesday a certain concern about air quality: the maximum limits are not exceeded, but they recommend respecting safety measures such as the use of masks and, if possible, stay at home. Especially in this area of ​​Tazacorte, the closest to the lava spill into the sea. “The confinement is going to be maintained until it can be verified that the levels are adequate,” explained its technical director, Rubén Fernández.

The residents’ concern extends to the labor field. José Juan Santana is one of the owners of Cerrajerías Santana, located on the main street of San Borondón. He has just received an order for steel beams and is unloading them from the truck with the help of Ubay González, an employee of the local steelmaker Darymar. “We have been in confinement for four days and a tremendous downturn in business has been noticed,” explains Santana. Their income comes mainly from the banana industry, ubiquitous in the area. “If the bananas go to hell, we’ll all go behind, José,” González replies. Agriculture directly accounts for 5.4% of the island’s GDP, but this weight is multiplied if exports, packaging or subsidies received from the European Union are taken into account. The latter depend on local entrepreneurs being able to meet their production quota. And the banana trees in the area are not very optimistic about it.

“My bananas hold up for now,” says Francisco Gómez Acosta, from 80 years, neighbor of Marina Alta and witness of its third eruption. “I have gone out to water because I cannot allow the whole harvest to be lost.” His farm is across the street, and he continues to take care of it with his bare hands and the help of a laborer. “I was born poor and I have worked for it all my life,” he says. “And this blissful volcano has already screwed up two houses and a greenhouse.”

Not everyone trusts that the bananas will hold up. “Look, all these bananas look healthy, but they don’t work. This ash creates stains on them, and they get bigger when the truck rubs ”, Marco Lorenzo explained bitterly, on the farm of a bushel (agricultural measure that in the Canary Islands is equivalent to about 5. 000 square meter). This farmer is waiting for a truck to help him cut the banana pineapples and take them to the cooperative. from Laguna and Tazacorte. There, guarded by the National Police, a dozen trucks queue up to enter the farms. The first in line is Alberto, a local trucker who, like everyone else, will have an hour and a half to enter accompanied by the Civil Guard, load the fruit, unload it at the cooperative’s warehouse and get back in line to the next pick-up shift. “We are concerned about our work, of course,” he says. “But we must continue.”

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