By Joan Faus and Horaci Garcia
LAS MANCHAS, Spain (Reuters) – Sabino Leal Jeronimo, 80, returned home to the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma for the first time in four months on Friday after a volcanic eruption forced him to flee.
Lava currents may no longer threaten to set fire to his home in the hill town of Las Manchas, but what greeted him was still daunting – three-meter (10ft) mounds of black ash piled around his house and surrounding streets, forcing him to climb hills and work his way up dirty stairs to access his house through the back door.
“It’s a mess inside, it’s what’s happening with the ashes and the dust – it’s spreading everywhere. What can you do? You can’t fight nature,” the pensioner said stoically at Reuters.
The house, in the foothills of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, is in one of several areas where residents were told last Tuesday they could return after a three-month eruption was declared officially over on Christmas Day .
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Jeronimo kept faith that his house – which was built by his grandparents and where he was born – was not among the approximately 3,000 buildings that were destroyed by rivers of molten rock.
The only structural damage he sustained was the partial collapse of the garage ceiling, trapping his car underneath.
He has so far received no official help clearing the ashes but said he would get through it little by little with the help of his four children and friends. He currently lives in a hotel made available by local authorities for many of the 7,000 people forced from their homes.
Regaining a sense of normalcy, however, will take time with so much debris still blocking the roads and with water and electricity services interrupted.
“I feel good, I’m a very calm person,” Jeronimo smiled, as firefighters across the road poured water into tanks to supply homes. “But if I can step back, I’ll feel more relaxed.”
Maria Inmaculada Perez, 62, was less optimistic as she dug into the ashes around her home with her husband.
Like Jeromino, she lives in a hotel but hopes to return home in July if authorities help with the cleanup. She worries the rain will solidify the ashes and doesn’t know if it will be safe enough for her 84-year-old mother, who lived next door, to come home.
“It’s so painful to see the house like this,” she said. “We need help. The more ash we remove, the more we find. It makes us feel very helpless.”
Authorities in La Palma have warned residents to clean up the ashes by wearing masks and protective clothing and to avoid entering basements where toxic gases could still be trapped. They offered help to vulnerable populations and people whose homes are unstable.
(Reporting by Joan Faus, Horaci Garcia and Borja Suarez, writing by Joan Faus, editing by Aislinn Laing and Angus MacSwan)
Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.