The slow revival of La Palma

The reconstruction of the island of La Palma is advancing, two years after the eruption that devastated 1,218 hectares of surface and left 2,329 people homeless, very slowly.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
16 September 2023 Saturday 11:06
1 Reads
The slow revival of La Palma

The reconstruction of the island of La Palma is advancing, two years after the eruption that devastated 1,218 hectares of surface and left 2,329 people homeless, very slowly. State aid has still not arrived, while many affected people live temporarily in containers, wooden houses, with relatives or rented houses, waiting for clarification on how and where to build their new homes. Some have received aid worth 60,000 euros, others 30,000, some 10,000 and many, nothing. The feeling for a large part of those affected is that “there is no future”, while they try to cope as best they can and with the help of medication, the anxiety, anguish and sadness that generates so much uncertainty. They lost everything and still have no response from the administrations, especially the state.

The towns of Puerto Naos - the main tourist area in the area - and La Bombilla remain closed due to the presence of gases. Some 1,300 families are rehoused in relatives' homes, live for rent or even in hotels - there are 71 people in this situation - while businesses in the area remain closed and workers remain in ERTE. At the end of this month, sensors will be placed in the area and a pioneering system in the world will be tested that will allow gases to be removed through an outfall to the sea. If the results are optimal, some neighbors could return home, but nothing is definitive yet.

The employees of the 230 hectares of banana plantations that were destroyed by the lava and those who worked in the Callejón de la Gata industrial estate, the largest on the island and which was completely buried, also remain in ERTE. There are still no plans to raise it again. The tourism sector is advancing at half speed and demands a flight fund to increase connectivity and promotional campaigns in European countries to explain clearly that “there is no danger” and that the gases are contained in a small area, as indicated by the president of the CIT Tedote, Óscar León.

When two years have passed since the start of the eruption - it began on September 19, 2021 and lasted for 85 intense days - on La Palma there is still everything to do although from outside, even from other Canary Islands, It is believed to be solved. “We knew from the beginning that this was going to be a long road but we also thought that the solutions were going to arrive sooner,” says Fátima Ramos, vice president of the Platform for People Affected by the Volcano. Ramos advocates stopping “patching” and starting to design without delay a socioeconomic plan between all parties for the island. “If not, we die,” she warns.

The greatest progress has occurred at the level of communications. On Tuesday, the highway that connects La Laguna with Las Manchas and that was eaten by lava (almost 74 kilometers of highway disappeared) will be inaugurated. This road has become a symbol: “the path has already been laid out and we must follow it.” This is stated by the president of the Cabildo of La Palma, Sergio Rodríguez, in which the hopes of all the palmeros are placed. Rodríguez, from the Canary Coalition (CC) and in the previous legislature, mayor of El Paso - one of the affected municipalities -, saw the efforts and efforts he made for his neighbors after the eruption rewarded in the May 28 elections.

Rodríguez obtained an absolute majority in the Cabildo and the PP, which managed the emergency, was left out. The political change also occurred in the rest of the municipalities affected by the volcano, with notable progress by CC, which today is fighting to ensure that La Palma returns to being the island it was and those affected "recover what was lost." “That is my goal for the next four years, that anyone who had a farm or a house will have it again and if there is someone who does not want to rebuild, they will recover the value of what the volcano swallowed,” says Rodríguez, who is also affected. For two years he has been away from his house, located in Puerto Naos.

To achieve its objectives, it warns that it is key for the State Government to deliver the money to which it committed. “In Madrid they still don't know what is happening,” says Rodríguez, who indicates that what was promised was 100 million euros a year in four years, “but there is still nothing of that.” "The damage from the volcano amounted to 982 million euros, if those 400 plus the contribution of 200 that the Government of the Canary Islands is going to make, we will cover almost everything, but the Government of Spain has to get involved," says Rodríguez.

As he explains, the State's problem is that it does not want to "set a precedent" with La Palma, but "it is necessary to single out this catastrophe." As he explains, when an eruption occurs, houses, farms and infrastructure are lost, as well as the soil, so that what was in the same place cannot be rebuilt. As an example, he points to what is happening with the expropriations that are being carried out to open new roads. The square meter is paid at 70 cents, “which is nothing,” when under that lava there were homes and banana farms that produced.

Rodríguez's main concern right now is housing. The mayor of El Paso, Ángeles Fernández, agrees. “It cannot be that there are people living in containers and that no one blushes. That has to be fixed,” says Fernández, who in the previous legislature was the councilor for Social Services of the municipality (also from CC).

In one of the 85 containers that are installed in Los Llanos, Nayra González lives with her husband and two children, ages 13 and 15. This family lost their home in Todoque - the town that disappeared entirely - and, after many trips, in December of last year they were given a container house. They entered on December 24 and she acknowledges that getting the container meant “a before and after” because, once settled in a fixed place, they were able to begin to rethink their lives.

This year they have been waiting for solutions from the administrations to be able to build their new homes but, since they have not arrived "and time continues to pass and their children grow up" they have decided to start their own house.

They are lucky to have land. The price per square meter on the island has skyrocketed since the eruption and has gone from 7 euros to 35 euros, which prevents many affected people from doing the same. With the money that Nayra and her husband have received from the administrations, around 100,000 euros, and the support of a loan, they are going to build a new home. “We have to do it now. Our children are growing up and the oldest will soon go to university. We need that house to create family memories again before they leave,” says Nayra, who recognizes that the container “fulfills her function” but is not her home. Like them, there are 207 families who have already requested construction licenses. A very small number if you take into account that the volcano engulfed 1,345 homes.

Nayra points out that being able to build her house again gives her a lot of strength and pushes her to move forward, which is why she calls on the administrations to take measures so that all those affected can do so. Two years after the volcano she states that she never thought “they would be so strong.” “It has been a constant roller coaster these two years. At first it was good because I saw so much support that I thought everything was going to be easier; "Then you collapse when you see how slowly everything is moving, but you get back up because you have to keep going," says Nayra, who assures that when they look at the volcano, which today continues to emit gases from its crater, "they hold their breath."

Diego César also lives in a small 39 square meter container with his 11-year-old daughter and he will have to stay there for a long time because he does not have enough resources to build a new house. “All they promised us are tall tales,” says Diego, who says he feels abandoned. “It's been two years since the volcano and they have given us few solutions,” says Diego, who cannot hold back his tears when asked how his daughter is handling the situation. “After having lost everything, she and her little room are deprived,” he responds.

The island's Cabildo is aware of the social demand and is currently working together with the Government of the Canary Islands (chaired by Fernando Clavijo, from CC) at forced marches to try to approve as soon as possible the reconstruction decree, which will allow the land of La Palma to be rearranged. . The previous Government of the Canary Islands, of the PSOE, began the work and prepared up to eight drafts, but the last one presents “signs of unconstitutionality”, which has led to its review and a delay in time. At the same time, work is being done on an extraordinary housing plan for the island, which will be included in the next regional budgets.

The counselor of the Presidency of the Government of the Canary Islands, Nieves Lady Barreto, who is a palm tree, knows what is happening: “People are very bad, but it is logical because there have been no solutions. They have been promised a lot but nothing has come. We are working on it,” says Barreto.