Experience is a degree, and when it comes to volcanic events, on the island of La Palma there is plenty. Palm trees older than 72 years have witnessed two eruptions, that of the San Juan volcano, in 1949, and that of Teneguía, almost 50 years ago (October 1971).
So, who else who less on this island, the one that has historically recorded the most eruptions since the 15th century in the Canary archipelago, the seismic swarm that began last Saturday and that threatens a volcanic explosion does not catch him again. But one thing is the experience and another, wanting to repeat it a second or third time, depending on the case.
There are those like Pablo Batista, a retired teacher, who remember that both the eruption of the San Juan volcano and the Teneguía volcano were “a spectacle”, but if they were given a choice, they would prefer that the tremors of Cumbre Vieja remain only in that, in a threat , a scare. It puts the possible human and material damage that a lava river could cause if it were directed to inhabited areas before the attractive image of a new eruption.
Neri Leal, a neighbor of Todoque, Los Llanos de Aridane, thinks the same, who recalls that the eruption of the San Juan caused “many people” from the area to emigrate to Venezuela, because “they were left with nothing.” “It was a terrible alarm. A tragedy. It destroyed the vineyards in Las Manchas and San Nicolás. The fire tubes arrived. There was nothing left,” says Leal, who was five years old at the time.
Pablo Batista was a little older. He was nine years old and lived in Los Quemados, in the municipality of Fuencaliente. His mother, who had witnessed the Chinyero eruption in Tenerife (1909), warned him of what could happen when the earth began to shake a couple of weeks earlier.
And when dust began to fall from the sky, he no longer had any doubts: “the volcano burst.” Days later the lava emerged and the people, says Pablo, instead of being scared, of fleeing, they came as close as they wanted. He got to touch the magma, once cooled, but remembers that a man did not wait that long. He put an iron in to see what happened and it ended up melting. The iron.
“There were no security protocols like now. The buses went there at all times. It was an attraction at that time, without radio or television,” in a land where double insularity, in the mid-twentieth century, was more than obvious, relates this retired teacher. The Teneguía eruption is cooler. Then I was 31 years old. He remembers that he went to a nearby mountain, next to the San Antonio volcano, with four of his children.
“People were sitting on the hillside and spent the whole afternoon there. They brought a snack, a glass of wine …”, he recalls. Neri Leal was an exceptional witness. It happened that two days before the eruption they were traveling by boat to El Hierro and when they were near the tip of Fuencaliente they noticed a strong tremor.
Back on La Palma, they passed through the same area again and saw “a cut in the ground through which smoke was coming out.” When he arrived in Santa Cruz de La Palma, his brother, who was a policeman, picked him up by car and they were able to cross the many roadblocks until they reached almost half a kilometer from the volcano.
“It was a show. It was full of people. A similar thing had not been seen,” Neri recalls, although there were also people who “lost their things.” He also points out that at that time there were comments about whether the island was going to split in two or if it was going to sink.
These days, both Pablo and Neri remain attentive to the information in the local press, and also in the national press, which speaks of earthquakes, a yellow alert and possible evacuation plans.
Near the area where the tremors are concentrated these days, in the municipality of El Paso, its mayor, Sergio Rodríguez, tells Efe that there is a disparity of sensations.
These days, city council staff have made a door-to-door tour of Jedey and San Nicolás, the areas closest to Cumbre Vieja, and the conclusion they draw is that “in the end, the older people, the ones who already have experience in eruptions, it is calmer. ”
The elderly say that both in San Juan and in Teneguía they were not explosive or dangerous, and that the lava moved slowly.
Those who have not had this experience, as is his case, since the Teneguía eruption took him off the island, are “a little more scared,” he admits.
Rodríguez explains that in the event that the alert level rose to orange, the third on a scale of four, there would be sufficient margin to carry out the pertinent evacuations. However, he advises: “you have to be prepared.” Now, he knows that “people know what to do and have already prepared the most important things”, that is, basic luggage, medicines and personal documentation. The worst, he admits, is “the uncertainty of where the lava is going to come from, if it does come out.”