The fight against the ashes of the La Palma volcano


Ashes have become an everyday item for La Palma population. The daily struggle to mitigate the effects of the Tajogaite volcano They are forcing hundreds of people, whether they are volunteers or public employees, to work piecework day after day to prevent the materials expelled by the volcano from causing even more damage to the almost 500 homes in the areas close to those washed away by lava. It is a task without reward. Organized groups are working hard to remove the volcanic ashes that cause a great weight on the structures of the houses that are evicted.

To carry out this work, two lines of work have been marked. The first, within the exclusion zone of the volcano –around 2,500 meters from the emission centers–, where the professionals take charge of the removal of the material after the assessment of the firefighters and the technical staff of the Cabildo de La Palma due to the severe risk of detachments due to the weight of the ash. If the properties are outside that 2.5 kilometer radius, they are the municipalities of El Paso and Los Llanos those who are in charge of cleaning, prioritizing from the areas closest to the eruption to those furthest away, as long as there is a risk of the structures collapsing.

In this task of unearthing these houses, they struggle from the owners themselves to volunteers, passing through the municipal workers and the councilors of the municipalities. Everyone, guataca in hand, are responsible for removing thousands of kilos of these ashes that continue to accumulate day after day on rooftops, roofs and patios. There are more than 300 people who daily undertake these tasks, which respond to an act of solidarity with those who cannot act. They are also responsible for opening the roads to allow access to neighbors who continue to collect their belongings.

There are still many houses standing in the neighborhoods of El Paraíso, Alcalá, El Fronton, Tacande, Montaña Rajada, Corazoncillo, San Nicolás, Jedey and Las Manchas. In them, it is necessary to prevent the weight of the volcanic material from causing structural damage to many evicted houses, those to which the neighbors will not be able to return until the volcano dies down or the fury loosens, something that still seems far away.

It is constant work. Every morning he dawns with more accumulated material and forces to resume the round of tasks in the houses that each group already has assigned. This work is becoming essential for residents who cannot access their properties. It guarantees that, if your house survives the lava, it will not be the material expelled by the Tajogaite that causes the dismantling of those constructions.

The neighbors are aware of that quiet and constant work that is carried out daily to prevent their homes from ending up being buried or crushed by the weight of the expelled materials. The volcano has covered the entire Aridane Valley of a black blanket of sand and has also been noted throughout the island territory. It ends up being an insurmountable slab for homes that are not prepared to support that weight. Hence the necessary task carried out by these cleaning teams that go through the middle of the evicted neighborhoods in search of houses to dig up.

The objective is to avoid what happened to the land of Canarian fight Federico Simón, from Las Manchas. It succumbed to the weight of this volcanic material, which, combined with the shock wave from the continuous explosions of the lava emitting cone, caused its roof to collapse.

In this volunteer work, it is also important to collaborate with neighbors who can access the area to transport belongings, allowing them to rescue some of their memories until, who knows when, they can return home.

Cleaning people, members of voluntary organizations, municipal staff or, simply, neighbors aware of the need to collaborate to avoid further losses, do not look at time or work; They know that their constant work is necessary and they are still there to help with whatever is needed.

The work focuses on around 500 buildings that continue to receive the tons of material that cover the exclusion zone, in which around 20 centimeters of ash accumulates every day that, on a roof, weighs much more than accumulating a meter of snow.

It should also be borne in mind that municipal workers and volunteers already have three weeks of effort, in which they practically work from sunrise to sunset. At this time, it is also necessary to provide not only tools such as shovels, trucks, brushes, ladders or blowers, but also more hands to help alleviate the effort and allow to take rest days to recover the work with more energy.

UME support

In this sense, it has already announced the Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, that 40 members of the Military Emergency Unit (UME) are incorporated into these cleaning tasks and that, if necessary, more members of the Army will be mobilized to continue joining forces. The objective is to prevent infrastructures that are at risk of collapse due to the weight of the ash from falling in the areas closest to the volcano. The UME military will do it within the 2,500-meter exclusion zone, where firefighters, both from La Palma and from other bodies in the archipelago, also work long hours carrying out cleaning tasks on roofs and rooftops.

In addition, firefighters provide revealing data on the hardness of the work they carry out, and in which the usual tools that they must carry for their development have to incorporate protective equipment. A set that makes them lose between one and two kilos of weight every day, say the firefighters. Added to this is the fact that these emergency workers combine this work with helping in the evacuation of belongings, animals and people.

By the way, they point out that they carry out almost ten hours of continuous daily work, in which they are under a constant rain of ashes and with the help of brushes, shovels and sacks they release all the load of these materials that can cause the collapse of the roofs since its weight can be between 80-100 kilos per square meter, which will increase if it rains. The situation is complicated because the downspouts are clogged.

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