The excavator above 200ºC cannot work and those temperatures are already being seen very close to the beginning of the excavation.

The neighborhood of La Laguna, on La Palma, where reconstruction work has begun.

The southern flank of La Palma has been bathed in tens of millions of cubic meters of ash, lava flows that are still hot and toxic gases that can still last for months. After 85 days of eruption, the Cumbre Vieja has been extinguished, but leaves 1,219 hectares of land affected and enormous material damage. The estimated time of the reconstruction work is unknown, because there are still obvious dangers.

“The emergency is not over yet,” says Stavros Meletlidis, a geologist at the National Geographic Institute (IGN). “[Los científicos] we have to emphasize the dangers of removing laundry, the possible collapses, the gases, the high temperatures that the washes can have or the possible particles in suspension that can originate when removing the ashes ”.

After three months of eruption, the operational teams in the area are rushing to restore normalcy on the island as soon as possible. On December 29, the first test was carried out to remove the lava flows at the La Laguna crossing, in the municipality of Los Llanos de Aridane. Armed with bulldozers, the workers were able to remove up to four cubic meters of lava. But the volcano, again, marks its times.

As David Calvo, geochemist and spokesperson for Involcan explains, “All the gases and temperatures present slow down the work”. The excavator above 200ºC cannot work and those temperatures are already being seen very close to the beginning of the excavation. That’s when “the excavator is withdrawn and what the Military Emergency Unit (UME) does is cool the lava with hoses,” says Calvo. However, this “can be done very locally” and, as you get deeper into the wash and come up against larger lava fields, “cooling them with trucks is probably not an option.”

Reconnaissance work on the La Laguna pouring before drilling.

Reconnaissance work on the La Laguna pouring before drilling.

The volcano has poured more than 200 million cubic meters of lava onto the ground, an amount unprecedented on the island since there are records. Authentic lava walls have been formed that reach up to 50 meters in height. Its scab is cold, but inside reach temperatures of several hundred degrees, even after almost 20 days since the Cumbre Vieja stopped expelling magma.

In the crater there are still holes in which they are measured up to 1,000ºC and in flows such as those of La Laguna, which is already being drilled, 230ºC have been found at just one meter of depth. In thicker areas, therefore, they will be much higher, as well as those that have traveled the central sector of Todoque, where “it is possible that temperatures are easily at 600ºC or 700ºC,” says Calvo. He points out that “the internal heat that the volcano is capable of storing for a long time is very important.”

To the challenge of temperatures, they join the toxic gases that are present in the vicinity of the volcano and likely to persist for several months. The magma that has remained in the conduit has to cool down and has to finish degassing. Something similar happens with lava flows as well, although in less quantity than in the volcanic cone, because when they stop flowing and lose temperature, their degassing is much faster. “They have small elements of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and water vapor” and “it is true that in favorable areas such as troughs they can accumulate,” they point out from Involcan.

Back to normal?

The main thing now is to ensure and recover essential services in populated areas such as electricity, water and roads, many collapsed by authentic lava walls. What’s more, there are tens of millions of cubic meters of ash and pyroclasts that cover natural spaces, but also homes and populated areas. At some points they reach six meters in height, especially those closest to the volcano. Ash that was even trafficked.

“There is no idea of ​​removing all that. We are talking above all about removing that ash or lapilli that can cause a problem for the return to normal life of the inhabitants. What is within a natural landscape, as in all islands, will remain there ”, Meletlidis points out. Nor will all the lava on the ground rise: “You have to live with the lavas and you have to live with the lapilli”.

A house surrounded by ashes in the Las Manchas neighborhood, on La Palma.

A house surrounded by ashes in the Las Manchas neighborhood, on La Palma.
Borja SuarezReuters

There are even those who propose measures to reuse all that huge amount of ash. The Popular Party of Icod de Los Vinos (Tenerife) has proposed to the Government of the Canary Islands that it carry out a study to find out the viability of reuse it for the replacement of sand on the beach of San Marcos. This tourist enclave is now practically in ruins after some refurbishment works that stopped the cycle of the sand and ended one of the great attractions of the environment.

However, as the geologist says, there are still more important “invisible dangers” to attend to, such as gases or structural damage to homes. Just a few days ago, the EMU detected a large concentration of lethal gases emanating from the ground in the still-present exclusion zone. Many of them present high concentrations in the interior of the houses closest to the washings and in the basements. For this reason, the return to normality on the island will be slow and will depend on the measurement of variable parameters such as the presence of gases or the internal temperature of the washes.

“From what I know, there is no other place in the world where a casting of this power has been attemptedMeletlidis points out. Remember that, in the San Juan eruption, when the nucleus of Fuencaliente was isolated, the roads were opened with explosives, but – he assures – it was a question of much less powerful lava flows, about three meters high. “Now you have to consider whether or not it is worth applying measures at certain points. The important thing now is planning, which depends on the administrations ”.

La Palma, faced with a double crisis

In the more than 1,000 hectares that lava has covered, more than 2,900 homes have been affected and up to 138 buildings have been damaged, according to Copernicus data. The devastated hectares of crops are estimated at 370, most of them banana, with 228.69, one of the economic engines of the island. In addition, 412 hectares of banana trees have been covered by ash.

The provisional losses estimated by the Canary Islands Government thus reach dizzying figures. Total, up to 840 million euros. Román Rodríguez, Minister of Finance for the insular executive, points out that the EU solidarity fund will “barely” contribute 2.5%, which is why he calls for more European aid.

As Europa Press collects, ehe Minister of the Presidency, Relations with the Courts and Democratic Memory of the Government of Spain, Félix Bolaños, has reiterated the will of “Intensify” reconstruction “as soon as possible” to “return life projects to the affected people” and highlighted the “record agility” in the processing and delivery of aid to the population.

“We want to do it at a very agile and very fast pace. Without a doubt, a rhythm that in catastrophes of this nature had never been experienced before ”, he defended. Thus, it has specified that as of December 31, the central Executive has already mobilized 247.6 million euros on the island and it plans to mobilize 195 million euros more “in the coming months.” In total, the sum of aid that the Government estimates for the reconstruction of the island of La Palma amounts to 442 million euros, to which will be added the contributions of the island government, the Cabildo and local corporations.

Among these contributions is that of doubling the maximum amount of State aid so that each affected family can rebuild their destroyed home for the volcano, up to 60,480 euros, compatible with those of other administrations. In addition, a subsidy of about 17 million will also be given to SMEs and the relaunch of the tourism sector, and about 12 million in aid to the agriculture and fishing sector.

While they wait for the aid, the palm trees also face another crisis beyond the economic one. Between the more than 7,000 people evacuatedThere are those who have lost the neighborhood where they grew up, those who have lost the house that they had maintained their whole life or their place of work and subsistence. And even all at the same time.

As stated in an interview Cristina García, coordinator of the Group for Psychological Intervention in Emergencies and Catastrophes (GIPEC), “Many people will develop some type of trauma and chronic stress”, because “living in this situation for so long generates this type of reactions and possible disorders.” However, once the emergency is over, the GIPEC psychologists leave. In this sense, “now, in many cases, therapy will be needed and we hope that those affected can have that access.”