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Stalked by lava: anguish in Tazacorte at the arrival of the new wash to the sea


– What do we get?

– We take it all.

Encarni is nervous. Three of his nephews have just arrived with two trucks at the door of his house in San Borondón, the southernmost population center of the municipality of Tazacorte, to empty it. The authorities have not issued any evacuation alert in that area, although they have warned this Tuesday that as soon as the lava tongue reaches the ocean – it is at 30 meters away and runs at a speed between five and 10 meters per hour, according to the Canary Islands Volcano Institute (Involcan) – the confinement of four of the seven neighborhoods of the municipality will be decreed to avoid the possible inhalation of harmful gases such as carbon dioxide. His house, with two floors and attached to the only restaurant in the place, is within that fence, it is a few 500 meters from the area of exclusion closer to the coast. “We take everything because the lava is going to arrive,” says her husband, Juan, who is showing the boys how to place boxes with dishes in one of the pick-ups.

The couple has a house further north, in Punta Gorda, which will also serve as a warehouse. “They haven’t said anything, but you can already smell the smell … put your mask on,” Encarni says to one of the boys, while ash does not stop raining. The residents of Tazacorte are afraid, the tension of the last month makes them go one step ahead. They have seen family and friends empty their houses in a few hours, in a hurry, and they don’t want to be next. They fear that the laundry that broke away from the Callejón de la Gata industrial estate in the Llanos de Aridane and continues to advance towards the center of La Laguna will then head towards their town, some three kilometers away.

On Saturday the authorities summoned the residents of Tazacorte, where about 3 reside. people, to an informative meeting at the municipal sports center. They were given a brochure with the different emergency scenarios with all the steps to follow in case of confinement or evacuation. That talk, which lasted more than two hours and allowed them to express their doubts with a microphone in hand, left them more uneasy, according to many of those who took the floor that day.

Habitantes de Tazacorte, La Palma, aprovechan las horas antes de que la colada de lava llegue al mar y tengan que confinarse.
Inhabitants of Tazacorte, La Palma, take advantage of the hours before the lava flow reaches the sea and have to confine themselves. DANIEL ROCA

“I just know that I don’t know anything,” said one of the neighbors, after assuring that that meeting had only stoked his nerves. “Can you make sure we can sleep soundly?” A woman threw at them, alluding to the almost daily tremors. The technical director of the Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan (Pevolca), Rubén Fernández, repeated to them on several occasions that the behavior of volcanoes is unpredictable, and that any forecast about the direction that the lava will follow would be highly reckless and without scientific basis.

In the center of the city, another area that could be confined in the next few hours, Francisco Camacho, the owner of Kiosko San Miguel, in the main square, comments anguished with one of his employees the route that the lava could follow, reaching the neighboring streets before reaching the sea. The fact of having to shut himself up at home does not worry him, nor does he have to close his premises, it is the disappearance of the town that makes him sleepless. “We come from a pandemic and we have managed to survive, now all I want is for this to stop,” he says of the eruption. This afternoon it has opened knowing that the activity will be minimal. “Would you come to have a cut with this ash?”, Says the waiter as he overturns a table and watches how a thin gray layer falls.

When the tongue of lava, around a thousand degrees of temperature, reach the sea, a little more than 20 degrees, there will be an explosion of steam of water that will generate a dense white cloud. The chemical reaction that is generated, in which chlorine mainly intervenes, can irritate the skin, the eyes and the respiratory tract. Yaira, from or , second year students of the Baccalaureate of Science who have traveled from Punta Gorda like every Tuesday to Tazacorte to receive math classes. “If they confine, we will not come on Friday, we do not want to breathe those substances,” says one of them. They know that the only fatality from the Teneguía eruption in 1971 was caused by the inhalation of these toxic gases.

In a nearby bar, La Arepera, two friends have coffee and chat. Driving around the city with FFP2 and spending more time at home does not worry them. “I’m going to continue doing the same,” says Nieves, 47 years, who works in the hospitality industry and is thinking about moving to Tenerife because he believes that the situation is becoming “impossible”. His partner Aymara (44) lived in La Laguna and was evacuated. He is in a borrowed house in Tazacorte. “Honestly, I don’t care about the ash, the gases, the covid was much better than this, at least you were at home.” Nieves takes a sip of coffee. “This volcano is bad, very bad.”