Life on the edge of the volcano's exclusion zone: “I sleep because I have to sleep”

Senaida is the last house before the new control that the security forces installed at 17. 00 last Tuesday on the LP – 213. Just a few meters beyond the void begins, the forbidden zone evacuated before the persistent advance of the lava that from the 19 September erupts from the La Palma volcano. “As long as they don’t kick me out, my husband and I stay here. I sleep because we have to sleep ”, he explains at the entrance of his home. “But we live in fear, in anguish. This morning I almost had a fit when the postman knocked on the door. I thought it was the Civil Guard that was evicting us. ”

It is the life that hundreds of neighbors and businessmen have had to live who, in theory and by a narrow margin of meters, they can get on with their life and their jobs. As long as the volcano allows it. They live close to the neighborhood of La Laguna, in the municipality of Los Llanos de Aridane. Just four yellow plastic fences and the presence of three uniformed officers separate them from those other 800 neighbors who, since Tuesday, can return for short periods of time, and accompanied by an agent, to collect all the belongings that can be taken.

“This was a busy street,” explains Agustín Álvarez, businessman from 70 years, owner of the Agropalma warehouse, one of the closest companies to the border, dedicated to the sale of all kinds of products related to agriculture. “But now we are all afraid, everyone is enervated.” Álvarez employs 22 people. You know what it is like for the volcano to snatch something from you. “I have already lost 14 bushels and two bushels [en las islas, cada fanega suponen poco menos de diez celemines] of land that I can’t access. A disaster ”, sentence with the volcano in the background, ignoring the ash that has not stopped falling in the area during the last days.

Control policial camino de Palomares en La Palma, este miércoles.
Police control on the road to Palomares in La Palma, this Wednesday. DANIEL ROCA

The lava, at least this Wednesday, has given these neighbors a break. The spokesman for the Steering Committee of the Special Plan for Civil Protection and Emergency Assistance for Volcanic Risk of the Canary Islands (Pevolca), Miguel Ángel Morcuende, pointed out this Wednesday that the northwestern arm, which led to the evacuation of La Laguna, “is progressing very slowly, it is losing power ”and stays away from the evacuated area.

The end of the volcano, however, does not seem close. The cone emits a 17. 000 0 daily tons of sulfur dioxide, one of the main indicators of its vitality. “It would have to be below 100 a day to find us at the beginning of the end,” explained the spokesperson for the Scientific Committee and director of the National Geographic Institute (IGN) in the Canary Islands, María José Blanco.

Just one kilometer more to the northwest of the new security perimeter is the Camino de Palomares. “An agricultural neighborhood, banana, of simple people, settled down to the land, to the banana life. An environment that even seems to be taken from a magical realism novel ”, as defined by one of its neighbors, the regional deputy for the PSOE Matilde Fleitas. “We are nervous, of course. My child goes to school in La Laguna, my aunt lost her house. Last night, when I returned home, the scene was dantesque. ”

His neighbors, door to door, are his parents, Froilán Fleitas and Francisca Martín. And to his grandmother, Matilde León, of 92 years, who lives with this her third volcano. “I am calm, what has to be will be”, explains Francisca, of 70 years, while calmly sweep the entrance of his house. “My mother worries me more, where to take her, how she will be. I preferred not to tell him anything about the possible evacuation ”. Her husband is more negative: “La Palma is very bad. We need a lot of help. I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this. ”

La diputada socialista Matilde Fleitas, este miércoles.
The socialist deputy Matilde Fleitas, this Wednesday. DANIEL ROCA

Right across the street, Adolfo Pais works on his farm, 42 years. He has lost a good part of the family farms (“what was going to be our inheritance,” he explains) and the house where he was born in Todoque is in serious danger. “They did not summon us to our neighborhood for the evacuation meetings,” he bitterly recalls. “I hope the lava doesn’t get here at least. And if my house is going to take the lava, let it take it now, because I can’t even sleep with the wait. ”

The day is over for Agustín Álvarez. Before returning home, he chatted with his warehouse neighbor, the carpenter Manuel Reyes, in the latter’s warehouse. It is another of the businesses stuck in the exclusion zone. “You are hearing all day that if the volcano was loaded with Emilio, that if Sebastian’s from the bottom, about the Domínguez that flew,” he laments.

While waiting for the volcano’s latest whim to decide, Reyes continues to work and uses part of the warehouse to store his neighbors’ belongings. He looks at his warehouse with concern. “If the lava gets here, it burns like nothing,” he exclaims. And remember that this summer, during the fire that ravaged the island, the flames passed by a few meters. “I don’t know if destiny is wanting to tell me something …”. And laugh.

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