Silvia has three children and owns a small clothing store in Tazacorte. 17 years ago she opened the doors of her business, Modas Silvia, but she never thought that almost two decades later she would have to survive a pandemic and a volcanic eruption as a freelancer. His premises closed for two and a half months during the confinement. Later, the neighbor of La Palma decided to open only in the morning. A few weeks ago he started to take off and his establishment had enough influx to stay open all day. “He hadn’t started work and he already had people queuing at the door.” However, on September 19, when the volcano erupted, all their expectations of recovery took another blow. “Have I considered closing? Yes, but I have to feed my children,” he says.
Lava has already devastated more than 1,000 buildings on La Palma
On a good day before the eruption I could leave him at least 400 euros in cash, but for two weeks he barely had a turnover of 60 euros in a day. “At least some brands I work with have allowed me not to pay for the merchandise until January,” he stresses. In these thirteen days of the eruption, Silvia has closed her business on up to two occasions to help friends and family to collect belongings from their homes, which were about to be buried by lava. “Our loss is not equal to that of those who have lost everything, but we have to take care of local commerce,” he defends.
Silvia has found a formula to combine solidarity with the survival of the palm business. People from different autonomous communities have sent money to the store so that it is translated into clothes, bedding or shoes for the people affected by the volcano. “There are people who have gone to Tenerife by boat to bring clothes from large shopping centers, but there are also stores on La Palma that can do that function,” he says.
Beatriz and Suancar also felt the impact of COVID-19. In December 2019 they decided to open the Las Piedras restaurant, in El Paso. “We were doing very well. The place was full and we had four employees,” says the owner. But four months later they had to close due to home confinement. As soon as the terraces were allowed to open, they reopened, although they had to cut staff and only the two of them continued working. “People were very afraid of eating in public places and they asked us for a lot to take away. They were also afraid of spending money in case a new confinement came,” they recall. They had not fully recovered when the volcano erupted.
In both cases the establishment’s privileged location has helped them, located opposite the Caldera de Taburiente Visitor Center next to which the Advanced Command Post has now been established, from where the activity of the eruption is controlled. Where before tourists and walkers sat, now they eat agents of the Civil Guard, the National Police or journalists from different parts of the world.
The owners of the restaurant live in Fuencaliente, the area where there have been several tremors in recent days. Although the eruption has not reached their neighborhood, they do not breathe easily. Both have put some belongings in their car and, above all, photographs and souvenirs.
“Fall after fall”
In recent weeks, the Shell gas station in El Paso has also become a rest and consumption area for journalists and scientists. Blanca Afonso, one of the station workers, concludes that these are not good times for the island’s businesses: “We are going from fall to fall.” From your counter you can see how the volcano does not stop spitting lava, nor does it stop opening new mouths that put the buildings that have survived at risk. “Although they are not our houses, we are all destroyed, it shows in the environment,” he confesses. The transfer of professionals who have traveled to the island to work with the volcano has been, from their point of view, a lifesaver. In addition, the collapse of the income is not “so strong” because the service provided is 24 hours.
This same Thursday, the Minister of Tourism of the Island Council, Raúl Camacho, invited us to travel to the island. According to Camacho, despite the crisis caused by the volcanic eruption, “safety is a priority.” The counselor stressed that “one way to help La Palma is to travel and consume in it, especially in view of the damage that the volcano is causing and can cause in banana production.”
The head of Tourism emphasized that in the northern zone, the furthest from the eruption, the activity “continues normally.” The trails in this part of the island are the only activity that is still active at the Caldera de Taburiente Visitor Center. One of the workers of this tourist enclave explains that, of the 300 clients who usually have a normal day, they have fallen to just over 20 people per day after the eruption.
Sell boxes to save belongings
The confined neighborhoods of Tazacorte by the arrival of the lava to the sea are soulless. Meanwhile, life in the municipality is concentrated on the main avenue. Keibis works in one of the bazaars in the commercial area. He never thought of having to sell boxes and bags to his neighbors to rescue their belongings from the lava. In recent days, several residents of the areas affected by the laundry have gone to his store to buy clotheslines, bedding or products related to the home. “There is a lot of stress and a lot of anxiety,” describes the shop assistant.
The purchases of all the people who have lost their homes or who have been evicted have a discount. At other times, other customers pay for the purchase of those affected. “The other day a woman bought another a container so that she could keep her mother’s ashes, which was the only thing she wanted to rescue from her house,” she says.
On La Palma they are clear that nobody is having a worse time than those who have lost everything. However, all predict a near future of economic and social crisis. Juan Vicente Rodríguez, a farmer, trusts the resilience of the palm trees: “We are getting used to overcoming one disaster after another.”