Wednesday, January 19

Robert’s double loss, a story of the pain that an entire island feels before a cruel volcano

When the eruption began on La Palma, Robert Nazco, son of the island, began to fly over the lava flows with the drones that he manages within his audiovisual production company. He did it for different purposes: sometimes to inform the Island Council of how the route of the incandescent material is evolving, others to inform neighbors if their house was still standing or not, also to send the videos to the media.

A new wash from the La Palma volcano engulfs the Las Manchas cemetery

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In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, Robert took out a hole every day to take his drone south of the main cone of the volcano, where there has not been so much destruction and is the Las Manchas cemetery, a 1,000-square-meter cemetery that houses the remains of 3,160 deceased , more than 5,000 niches and the only crematorium in the entire island. His eyes rested there, lowered a little to stand a few meters from the grave of his parents. And he was breathing. The tombstone was still intact, the river of lava had not arrived. This is how the first two months of volcanic activity progressed. But everything changed on November 25, 2021.

That day, a new broadcasting center was born in Amanda’s house (as unlikely as it may seem), in the Las Manchas neighborhood. The lava flowed for a few hours, as if it were water, destroying new buildings and farms and virgin land that it had not touched until now. After overcoming the Cogote mountain, he reached the cemetery, where he had already stopped after having affected large proportions of its land. The emotional blow for La Palma was (and still is) very hard.

On November 1, All Saints’ Day, the Los Llanos de Aridane City Council installed a mural in the town’s central square, Memory corner, so that all those people who had their loved ones in that cemetery could remember them with dignity. The residents of this island, deeply rooted in their own, in their past, in what their parents and grandparents have left them, have been two years with extraordinary obstacles to fill the slabs of their ancestors with flowers: first COVID and then a volcano. That is why the pain is felt even more, because there has been neither farewell nor the opportunity for it.

Robert lost his parents very early. To his two-year-old father, of whom he only has three memories and is not aware of his absence or when he left. And to her mother, 29. “When she died, I was living in Tenerife (…) and she fell ill with cancer. I had planned to come [a La Palma] as long as she was sick and then recovered, that was my idea. But the reality was different, it was that the cancer took her, “he laments. From a very young age, Robert’s relationship with the Las Manchas cemetery, called Our Lady of Los Angeles, has been very close. She says that at first she went with her mother and grandmother once a month to see her father. Now he used to do the same “every two, three weeks”, alone or with his wife and daughter, to see the couple who gave him life, buried in the same grave.

“It’s like feeling like you can be with them that long. You cling a little to the feeling that that person can still be there and it becomes a very important bond, ”he justifies. His account of anguish over whether or not the lava was going to affect the resting point of his deceased parents is not unique. After the outbreak of the volcanic crisis, there are those who asked to remove their relatives from there, fearing that what would finally happen, this cruel volcano, wanted to happen. For many, this event has been more painful than the loss of their home. It has meant a double duel, the second time they mourn their dead.

“I cried as if they were gone again. But as the days go by, you realize that they are not really there, what is there is the memory that we try to hold on to ”, says Robert himself, who uses this argument to sentence that“ he would give the Entire cemetery to save a single house ”. “It is the place where the remains of our relatives are, but those who have been left without their home, their home, their memories … lose more,” he adds.

The cemetery of Our Lady of Los Angeles it has a peculiar history. The works for its construction began in the 30s of the last century, when there was a huge void in the Aridane Valley to bury the corpses. The place chosen was the Las Manchas neighborhood, which belongs to two municipalities: “from one street up it is in El Paso. And from one street down it is in Los Llanos de Aridane ”, describes the parish priest of the Church of Tajuya, Domingo Guerra.

A few years after the first stone was laid, the San Juan volcano, in 1949, erupted very close to where the current one did (all, always, in the Cumbre Vieja area), which has not yet been they have put a name. The lava flow of that time stayed close to the cemetery, about 300 meters, but did not touch it. Nor to the hermitage of San Nicolás de Bari. Hence, San Juan is named after the “caballero” volcano, because it respected both locations when everything indicated that it was going to destroy them.

The Las Manchas cemetery was first joined together. However, at the end of the 70s, Los Llanos de Aridane “had a very serious problem burying its neighbors,” María Victoria Hernández, an official chronicler of the municipality, explained to Canarian television. “So much so, that in 1963 work began on a cemetery that cost about 40 million pesetas, on the mountain of Picón de Las Rozas. It was never buried. Then, the new corporation began to expand the Las Manchas ”, now run only by the municipality of Los Llanos, the one with the largest population in La Palma (just over 20,000 inhabitants), although residents of El Paso are allowed to bury to their relatives there.

With so much history behind it, the damage that the lava is causing is “that pain that we all share, because absolutely everyone who lives in the Aridane Valley has someone there,” emphasizes Robert. “It’s like some people described: losing someone a second time. It is a second duel that may last less. But, at the end of the day, it hurts ”.

He assures that the day the worst news was known, the television in certain residences was turned off so that those who were there would not see how a blanket of hot rocks advanced through the cemetery, fulfilling the nightmare. “There was no need for older people to suffer from it.” Robert gives the example of his grandmother. “She is 95 years old and in good health. He has an avocado plantation and is still going. But she is a woman who has suffered a lot… Like the people of that generation, and more specifically on the island of La Palma, who have always been poor. He suffered from famine, mass immigration, he has lived off the countryside with great difficulty … We do not want him to continue suffering. We tell him that [el cementerio] it’s there, that maybe things can be recovered ”.

Just like he tells his grandmother, Robert also tries to convince himself that he will be able to retrieve his parents’ remains. The building of the cemetery where the graves are found remains standing. That is what invites you to dream. “Looking at the photos and the flights that we have been able to do in the area, I think that, inside the bad, the building itself has resisted. I try to stay optimistic and think that maybe, in some way, the area could be recovered ”. The fear is that a new lava flow will end up destroying both things: Robert’s hope and what remains of the Las Manchas cemetery. “This volcano has been a bit cruel to the island. He’s getting ruthless with her. We saw the example of Todoque, I don’t know if it was two or three weeks where that [la colada] He was not moving forward, we trusted each other and suddenly he launched a new one that swept away as if nothing had happened. I hope that doesn’t happen ”.

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