MOST RECENT UPDATE 3 November: A 57-year-old Briton now confirmed as Marion Auril O’Hara, and a 34-year-old Spanish woman resident in Arona, have died after being buried in a landslide in Los Gigantes around 3pm this afternoon. Mrs O’Hara is thought to have been visiting her son who lives in Tenerife. Authorities say that procedures to repatriate her body to the UK have already begun. The Spanish woman worked in the management team of the Hotel Bahía Príncipe. Her body is now in the Arona Tanatorio, and her funeral will take place tomorrow at 12 in Arona.
The landslide brought large rocks and earth falling from a height of around 40 metres. A lifeguard at the beach says that it happened in seconds, and that he tried with his bare hands to free those trapped underneath. Rescue services arrived quickly, and worked frantically to try to rescue any still buried in an estimated 5 metres of rubble. Around 150 people were involved in the immediate excavation, and the whole beach area closed for the duration. Sniffer dogs were brought in, and rescue workers have now confirmed that no-one else is buried under the debris.
Eye-witnesses said that there had been a rockfall in that very spot only a month ago, and the authorities had closed that part of the beach off, but had done no more than put up a tape. The mayor of Santiago del Teide, Juan Damián Gorrín, immediately defended his Ayuntamiento, insisting that bollards and warning notices have been in place for some time. In a move which has brought him no little criticism, he clearly blamed the victims for being somewhere they should not have been, and has now further blamed the Department of Costas for a lack of investment and interest in the area which, it is implied, has prevented the area being made safer.
It seems that in this last respect, Sr Gorrín has some justification for criticizing the Department of Costas, for the deputy director of the Government in Santa Cruz province, José Antonio Batista, has acknowledged that a week last Friday the Council presented a project to the Department of Costas to protect the Los Gigantes cliffs, but it was rejected for not having “the necessary guarantees” for a proposal of its type. The Department suggested that the Council submit a different kind of project.
What this means in detail is not clear, and it is not likely that works could have been carried out in time to prevent the tragedy even if the initial project had been approved, but it does seem that the Council was actively trying to do something about the state of the cliffs. What this also means, however, is that the danger was known, and whether there were bollards in place as well as the tape or not, it hardly seems a sufficient measure when the Council’s knowledge of the perilous condition of the cliffs is demonstrated by the fact that it was actively trying to get a project approved to make them safe.
Some will therefore no doubt think that Sr Gorrín might also look to the responsibility his own Ayuntamiento shares in the tragedy, with some sectors of the press being unequivocally critical of the Council for doing nothing after a previous landslide on 2 October. Police confirmed that they received no order from the mayor’s office to prevent access to the area, which remained closed off with no more than tape, it appears. Previously placed cones, which the council is adamant were in place, seem to have been removed at some point in the past month.
As of now, however, two deaths later, the beach is closed “until further notice”, and two Guardia Civil officers are preventing anyone entering the area. Many will think it is too little too late, and there will almost inevitably be a considerable fall-out from the ensuing blame game which will be played out over the coming weeks and months. Businesses in Los Gigantes are expressing grave concern over the damaging impact this sort of publicity can have for the area, and have asked for as much press responsibility as possible to minimise the damage to their livelihoods. Tourists, however, will understandably be more concerned for the damage to the lives of those affected by this tragedy.