A sense of helplessness is all you can feel when you see how a lava flow is about to destroy the house in which an old man has stored a lifetime of memories. Or when you put a face to a family with young children who lost everything on the day when the La Palma volcano erupted. "It was impossible not to empathise with the people affected, as they were experiencing a natural catastrophe with devastating consequences," said María García.
García was one of the six firefighters who formed the first Malaga Provincial Fire Brigade contingent that was sent to the Canary island on 28 November, to help with rescue, cleaning and support tasks. They have now returned to the province after a week of "frenzied activity" on La Palma.
The team was made up of María García, Antonio Manuel Cobos, Salvador Olivas, Joaquín Molina, Marta Soria and Jair Pereira, together with the technical inspector of the Malaga brigade, Francisco Soriano, who returned to Malaga a few days before the rest of the crew.
With a lump in her throat, García told of an old man of around 85 whose home was located in a risk area, in the south of the island. Every day the man went to a control point to await Guardia Civil authorisation to go to his home. “He was a very smart gentleman and we met him because he was always there; he could not remain calm if he was not near his house,“ she recalled.
The group of firefighters from Malaga spent an afternoon removing the accumulated ash from his building due to the possible risk of collapse. "We saw that the man needed to enter his home, to rescue things ... there was all his life," says García. At the time, they hoped that the house would survive the activity resulting from the volcanic eruption. But that hope faded in just three days. “When we went there again we saw that the lava had advanced in such a way that it was about to reach it; if not that night, it would do so a day or two later.”
Everywhere there was "uncertainty," García said. For those who lost everything and do not know what will happen in the future. Also, for those who have properties in the area of greatest risk and do not know if after a few days they will be left with nothing.
Hence, the Malaga team worked without much rest, and with no complaints, in order to help as much as possible in the week that they were on the island. In García's words: "As firefighters we have a moral obligation to be where we are most needed and to do everything in our power to help."
Garcia said the situation on La Palma had been exacerbated in recent days due to rainfall. As explained by Jair Pereira, the rains represented "an added problem because they drastically increase the weight of the ash", which increased the risk of collapse of the roofs on which it was deposited.
"In addition, it was a very intense week because there were many earthquakes," he added.
"A Titanic amount of work will be necessary when the volcano stops erupting, but we do not know when that will be," said García. Once it is over efforts will be made to repair the infrastructure and all the destruction to try to return the people of La Palma "back to normal".
The Malaga team agreed when describing the sight of the volcano, "The photos and images seen in the media do little justice to the sensation felt seeing it up close," said Pereira. "While there we saw fragments of rock in the lava stream that were the size of a bus," said the firefighter. García added, “It was imposing because it is unstoppable, it is impossible to control; It was quite a professional challenge.”
"When the locals read on our uniforms that we were Malaga firefighters, the response was incredible ... with the support and messages of thanks they constantly offered us," says Pereira. “The people of La Palma have a gift for making you feel at home and transmitting joy even when going through their worst times.”
Malaga’s Provincial Fire Brigade will continue to support the people of La Palma as long as necessary, and the next contingent will travel to the island on 18 December.