No one to blame

In the days following the eruption of the volcano, people went out to find someone to criticise, if not for causing the tragedy, at least for their reaction to it

Rachel Haynes

With any tragedy, once the initial shock has passed and the emergency assistance has been given, our immediate reaction is to find someone to blame.

It seems to be part of the healing process; knowing how something happened is vital of course, but being able to point a finger at someone - and eventually see them punished - brings a certain amount of satisfaction to victims.

They may never recover their homes or loved ones, lost in a tragedy, but they do know how it happened and who was responsible.

In the case of the recent fire in Sierra Bermeja we know that there is someone to blame. The fire was started deliberately, and was possibly related to marijuana plantations, said the authorities, even while the flames were still racing across the hillsides.

Perhaps aimed more at proving that they were already working hard on investigating the cause of the tragedy, the information gives the general public a target for outbursts of frustration, pain and loss. In this case the culprits are anonymous and probably will remain that way - only a small proportion of forest fire investigations end with a sentence - but we have the image of a human being to stick pins in if that makes us feel better.

The volcano eruption in La Palma is different, however. No one man (or woman) could be held up as responsible for the tremors and the explosions that resulted in molten lava spewing out of the top of a mountain, leaving a trail of devastation.

So with none other than Mother Nature to blame - some may also give their God part of the responsibility - people have no face to pin to the dartboard, no baddie to hate, no one to imagine rotting in jail.

So in the days following the eruption of the volcano people went out to find someone to criticise, if not for causing the tragedy, at least for their reaction to it.

The first target was Reyes Maroto, Spain's Tourism Minister, whose remark that a volcano was an added tourist attraction for a destination could have been kept on the backburner for a more suitable moment when the danger was over.

Next in the firing line were the landlords of rental properties on the island, also accused of taking advantage of the volcano. The story that they had multiplied their rent, just as hundreds of islanders had been evacuated from, or even lost, their homes, spread across the media. TV crews from several channels tried hard to find examples of these cruel rent hikes, sympathise with victims and demonise property owners. In the end though they identified few culprits to face the firing squad.

So when faced with the frustration of having no one to blame, sorry Reyes, but the fingers have to point in the direction of a politician.

TV crews have also been tracking down volcano fanatics who've rushed to La Palma for this once-in-a-lifestyle experience. I wonder how much rent they're paying.