La Palma volcano eruption: Thousands of people evacuated with many homes lost underground

The rumbling of Cumbre Vieja is deceptive.

To the untrained ear, it sounds like thunder, but locals who remember the last eruption 50 years ago know better.

The sound and smell of the bubbling volcano is a constant presence in La Palma, one of Spain‘s Canary Islands. Its dense ash fills the air and is now threatening air travel.

Some 7,000 people have been evacuated, many of them will now be homeless.

Ascensión and her family will be among them. She and her husband poured their life savings into building their home.

She saw the eruption from her kitchen window and they had no choice but to get out.

“I saw it happen and I just can’t describe the feeling. It was so shocking and I knew the house would be gone,” she said.

“The police came knocking at the door, ‘Get out you, have to get out!’ We grabbed two suitcases, our three dogs and cat and just took the cars and ran.

“I’m very nervous and scared, all our lives are there, we built it with our own hands, it’s all our life.”

Lava has consumed everything in its path – homes, cars and buildings are gone. All of it will be impossible to rebuild now that the earth has been destroyed.

Those tasked with moving the evacuees to safety are full of empathy. They know many will not have a home to come back to.

“Some people look at the pictures of the volcano and say it’s beautiful, I think it’s far from that actually. It’s sad,” Lieutenant Pablo Garcia, from the military’s emergency unit, said.

He has been on site since the eruption started on Sunday and has helped move thousands out of their houses.

“It’s sad. There are people who are not going to find their house after this because they’re now eight or 10 metres underground,” he added.

“These are people who’ve lived their whole life here on this island, in those houses. It was very hard to ask them to leave the house because of this volcano.”

There are an army of volunteers stepping up to help those displaced. A sports centre a few miles from the volcano is now a donation centre.

It’s brimming with food, clothing, toiletries and bedding. Every few minutes a car with more supplies arrives and the goods are ushered in and sorted.

For a disaster that is only a few days old, the efficiency of this community effort was admirable.

Councillor Elena Pais, who is coordinating efforts, said: “We’re open from nine in the morning until 10 at night, so we are there all day and we haven’t gone two days without stopping.

“The truth is that solidarity has been great, everyone has turned to volunteer. People are donating from institutions, individuals and schools, associations from around the world, everyone.”

It’s not just physical items they are helping with but mental health support too, with counsellors and support workers on hand.

“Social workers are working with the families. We’re dealing with covering their essentials in the immediate aftermath and then later we can, perhaps, help them with finding a new home and everything they need for it,” Ms Pais said.

With the tally of families in need of support growing, they will be needed more than ever.

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