Lava on La Palma, on the verge of swallowing a village of 1,000 inhabitants

Psychologists treating evicted residents describe episodes of panic and anxiety attacks in the face of uncertainty

3 min
The lava has already entered a village of Todoque, a town of about 1,200 inhabitants

BarcelonaThe lava from the cumbre Vieja volcano, on the island of La Palma, has slowed down its movement towards the sea: from advancing 700 metres per hour just after it erupted, to slowing down to 120 metres per hour on Tuesday. However, despite its slower pace, it has already entered the village of Todoque, a small municipality of about 1,200 inhabitants, which had already been evacuated due to the appearance of a new eruptive mouth. The villagers were able to enter their houses for a while to take some of their belongings: some took photos and paintings, and those who had more time loaded appliances and furniture, as the village could be wiped out by the volcano. "The lava swallowed the houses as if they were made of paper", a neighbour told Efe. So far around 165 homes have been destroyed.

The tongue that threatens the town of Todoque, the last before the sea, advances "faster and more fluid" along the slope of the land, fed by the new mouth that opened on Monday night and has forced the eviction of a thousand people. Now there are already 6,500 who have had to leave their homes. The lava is also spreading from a second tongue, to the southwest of the island, which has a "minimal movement" of only two metres per hour, and technicians do not know if it will accelerate.

In fact, experts studying the volcano no longer dare to make calculations about when the magma will reach the sea. "We will not give any figures, but wait for developments", said the technical director of Pevolca, Miguel Angel Morcuende. They are clear that the volcano will continue to erupt: as Morcuende explained, the accumulated deformation on the surface near the eruption zone is 25 centimetres, a "very important" figure that demonstrates the tension in the inner chamber of the volcano and confirms that "there will continue to be an eruption". "As long as there is deformation we have a clear problem. This is the fundamental data", he warned.

"Constant nervousness"

Meanwhile, in La Palma neighbours live in a "constant state of nervousness". The images of the volcano have been joined on Tuesday by the first shower of ash, and many residents are aware that the lava will swallow their houses. "It's very hard", say residents, "to see the lava sweeping everything away and you can't do anything about it". "For those who don't live here, it's an eye-catching and even beautiful event, but people are having a terrible time", Beatriz, a neighbour, told Efe.

It's such a mix of emotions that a team of psychologists are trying to help channel them in the different temporary accommodation centres. "It's not like mourning, it's mourning", said Cristina Garcia, coordinator of the group of psychological intervention in emergencies and disasters of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, which acts on the ground. She explains that they are coming across panic attacks, states of shock, people who "just do not believe it", anxiety attacks, people who eat a lot and others who have not eaten anything since Sunday, or neighbours who sleep all the time to escape reality - and others who cannot close their eyes. For Garcia, "the worst state" is the uncertainty in which hundreds of neighbours live, who do not yet know if their house is still standing or if it has already been buried by lava.

"We get neighbours who have just been evicted and who have everything with them. Some of them have doubts about whether their house will be saved or not. There is a lot of anger, crying, helplessness and denial", she says.

In addition to the houses, the lava has swallowed 400 hectares of agricultural land, 300 of which were banana trees, according to an estimate by the organisation COAG Canary COAG. There are also 60 hectares of vineyards affected and about twenty hectares of avocado trees.