Carlos Manuel anxiously watches a video that comes to him on WhatsApp. In the picture you can see a farm in flames. Although it is a small fire, the resident of La Palma thinks of something else: “That is a volcano again”. Carlos Manuel has been living in the Fuencaliente hotel since October 2021, enabled to accommodate those affected by the Cumbre Vieja eruption. Although his house is still standing, he cannot return due to the toxic gases that surround the La Bombilla area, in Los Llanos de Aridane. Six months have passed since the volcano went out, but the mark she left on the palm trees has not been erased.
Puerto Naos, the ghost tourist center that is still trapped by the gases of the La Palma volcano
The Red Cross psychologist Aurora Soria insists that, although the volcano has stopped spitting lava, La Palma has not returned to normal: “People are still in bad shape.” The expert points to hypervigilance as one of the most repeated consequences. “It is usual that when hearing a sound or a tremor, the neighbors associate it with the roar of the volcano. In these cases, the unlearning process is important to stop linking the noises to an eruption”, explains the expert.
Soria, who gives workshops to children and young people affected by the volcano, uses teaching as a tool to alleviate the fear of having to run away again. “I usually explain how the Canary Islands were created, how a volcano works or what requirements should be met so that we would be at risk again,” she says.
Many people affected by the September 19 eruption had not requested psychological assistance until two weeks ago. “Many thought they didn’t need it, or tried to keep their minds busy through work,” says the psychologist. Depression and anxiety are the most repeated diagnoses. Until now, only one more psychologist works with Aurora in La Palma, although they also have the collaboration of a volunteer specialist in Tenerife. Anyone can call 661620926, the emotional support service line offered by the NGO to the victims.
Depression and anxiety are the most repeated diagnoses, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. “Many people have recurring nightmares or dreams,” she details. The treatments depend on the state of each person, but they usually go through the management of emotions, relaxation and anxiety management.
The toilets have also treated people with suicidal thoughts at this time. Already in October, the psychologist of the Official College of Psychology of Santa Cruz de Tenerife Estefanía Martín warned of an increase in this type of thinking. “There are many people who confess that they no longer see the point of living,” she said then. For the Red Cross psychologist, two recent episodes have contributed to destigmatizing mental health: the COVID-19 pandemic and the La Palma volcano. The two events have raised awareness about mental illness and made it easier for people to seek help.
“I’m bad. A lot of stuff is piling up on me. I go for a walk, catch my breath and try to do activities so I don’t lose my mind. I hope there is a solution”, says Carlos Manuel. “I have only received 2,000 euros from the Cabildo and 200 euros from the City Council. I have it all saved for when I need it. This neighbor is one of the 280 people who continue to live in the three hotels set up for families without alternative housing, distributed between Los Cancajos, Los Llanos de Aridane and Fuencaliente.
114 houses delivered
“I have been looking for rentals but the thing is impossible. It doesn’t go down from 600 euros”, adds Carlos Manuel. Most of the people housed in these resources have been there since the beginning of the emergency, although there have been several additions. “Many families were in the houses of relatives and friends, but they could not continue there for various reasons,” Red Cross sources point out.
According to the data offered by the Government of the Canary Islands, until June 20, 2022, 226 million euros had been invested in housing and accommodation for the people affected by the eruption. Spending on accommodation for displaced people in hotels amounts to 3.92 million euros. On the other hand, 114 houses have been delivered: five prefabricated wooden houses in Los Llanos and 109 non-modular buildings. 4.95 million euros have also been paid to 424 families as aid for household goods.
Although some damaged infrastructure has resurfaced, such as the La Laguna highway that connected the north with the south, other parts of the island remain ghost towns. This is the case of Puerto Naos and La Bombilla. These coastal neighborhoods are empty and the establishments are closed. Carbon dioxide levels are unbreathable and dangerous to health. “The gases are lethal, there is nothing alive,” recalls neighbor Carlos Manuel.
The life of the residents and businessmen of Puerto Naos has been frozen since September 19 of last year. For this reason, the local Business Association has demanded solutions. “The volcano took away our past and politicians are taking away our future,” they concluded in an assembly held on June 27.
“We cannot get close to our businesses or homes, which are suffering from serious deterioration that could be easily solved with a little organization,” they said in a statement issued after the meeting. Some neighbors complain about not being able to turn off their electrical appliances in order to meet their electricity bills. Others warn that rainwater has seeped onto roofs and has caused breaks in the structure of houses.
“We do not understand that, with the amount of money that seems to be moving, there is not an endowment to access the area with order and a team. Who will be responsible for these damages and losses? Do we have fewer rights? Are we second class citizens? Do they want to eliminate us from the equation?”, asks the Association.