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A life in a square meter: those evicted by the volcano take their belongings to a giant warehouse


A woman with short hair and sunglasses arrives in her car at the old tobacco factory on La Palma, which everyone knows as JTI – the acronym of the Japan Tobacco International company. He stops on the access slope, lowers the window, drags his glasses to the middle of his nose, and waits for the question from the interlocutor. “Have you come to leave your personal belongings?” I can not speak. He turns his head to both sides in denial and with a desolate face he puts in first gear. The back is loaded with belongings. An old mini-system, a painting, blankets, a lamp and cardboard boxes from which other utensils sprout appear. A giant ship, about 5. 000 square meters, these days are used for hundreds of families evicted by the volcano to keep everything they could rescue from their homes. In the area, many say that the palm trees have tired of being recorded, of being asked. They drag almost a month of lava, roars and fear.

At 11 in the morning the transfer of vans loaded to the brim that access the renamed Business and Industrial Center of La Palma, in the municipality of El Paso ―with some neighborhoods such as Las Manchas evacuated by the advance of magma and others destroyed like El Paraíso – it does not stop. The Cabildo authorized the 24 September, five days after the volcano will explode, that macro warehouse for those affected to deposit their household belongings, animal food (some 60. 000 kilos of fodder for livestock), and also as a logistics point for the reception and distribution of large donations.

María’s house (51 years), in Las Manchas, is still standing. She, her husband and their three children are not the type who had to go out and empty the house in a hurry. They decided to move “where the grandparents” and gradually empty theirs. Now it has been left in a total exclusion zone. “I want to see how my mini plot is organized, my husband has taken care of bringing the furniture sealed in blocks. Our whole life is in there ”, she says accompanied by one of her children, from 13 years. From the outside – access to the warehouse is restricted to those affected – you can see mattresses fastened with duct tape, fitted tables and chairs, refrigerators, stacks of shoe boxes, mirrors, photo albums … a lifetime in little more than a square meter.

La antigua fábrica de JTI puesta a disposición de los vecinos de La Palma.
The old JTI factory made available to the residents of La Palma. Arturo Rodríguez (Arturo Rodriguez)

Found emotions

When one of the residents arrives at the center, he is assigned a number and a ship (of the seven, four have been destined to personal belongings), and as the objects are lowered from the vehicle, an operator with a notebook in his hand he draws up an inventory with each of the pieces. At the end of the document is the name and ID of the owner and his signature. Raquel Hernández, Councilor for Economic Promotion of the Cabildo, comes whenever she can to lend a hand. “They have mixed emotions, suddenly they see their life in a truck, it is a moment of great pain, but at the same time they thank you because they have been able to leave part of their history here, they know that their things are safe.” Of the 1. 086 evicted buildings, 878 are homes (589 in Los Llanos, 202 in El Paso and 87 in Tazacorte).

In the queue of trucks and vans waiting their turn to be served, is Peter, a Norwegian from 75 years in recent years 20 living on the island. At the wheel there is a volunteer of some 50 years, in the middle place he , and to his right one of his younger neighbors, does not reach the 30, who has lent itself to help him. His house, in La Laguna, has disappeared under the laundry. “I’ve lost it, the lava has eaten it, I won’t be able to return anymore.” Beads of sweat trickle down his forehead and his blue eyes are dull. He lived alone on a ground floor, now he stays in a hotel in Los Llanos that he pays for himself and is already preparing his return to Norway. “What am I going to do here?” He says. Still, it seemed like a good idea to leave some of his most treasured items in storage. The victims who require more space are assigned new plots.

In recent weeks, more than 400 volunteers have been part of the shifts of some 10 people who have come to help between eight and 20 hours of each day. For the transfer of objects, municipalities such as Barlovento and local companies have made vehicles available to those affected. Everything is perfectly organized to facilitate logistics, there is a space on the Cabildo website where volunteers can sign up and a Facebook page. “These days friends have passed through here, seeing them like this collapses you, but you have to continue and not stop accompanying them in this tragic moment,” says the counselor. “The palmeros are great fighters and most of those who come are convinced that this furniture is going to leave here, they want to resume their life.”

Lidia, from 29 years, she is one of the volunteers. “It is what we have left, to help as much as possible to get out of this as soon as possible … Many tell us that well, that if you have to take your house ahead of you, do it, but turn it off at once ”He says about the volcano. Until last Saturday 180 families had left part of their lives in the warehouse, but after noon they had to close the doors. “Nothing else fits”, said one of the operators.