Ringside seat for fearful villagers as La Palma volcano spews fire

Residents of the Canary Island village of Tazacorte had a ringside seat but were shocked and unwilling onlookers on Friday, contemplating a too-close-for-comfort spectacular eruption of La Palma's Cumbre Vieja volcano.

The lava flow produced by the Cumbre Vieja volcano reaches the Atlantic ocean in Los Girres beach in Tazacorte on the Canary island of La Palma
The lava flow produced by the Cumbre Vieja volcano reaches the Atlantic ocean in Los Girres beach in Tazacorte on the Canary island of La Palma early on September 29th, 2021. Since the eruption began on September 19th, hundreds of houses have been destroyed and thousands have been forced from their homes. (Photo by Sunsets Sweden / AFP)

“There’s nothing beautiful about it,” grumbled Jose Carlos Bautista Martin, a pensioner of 70 who looked on agog with fellow villagers as the volcano continued to spew waves of hot lava into the air.

“All it leaves behind is black, dark lava and an intense blaze which looks as if it will go on forever, growling as if it were the very devil himself,” he adds of the aeroplane-like cacophony accompanying an eruption which has wrought havoc and forced thousands from their homes.

Tazacorte port offers a perfect vantage point for spying the mouth of the volcano which dominates the island, a popular holiday destination, as well as the heaps of ash and lava cascading down to the sea hundreds of metres below its peak.

Even by Thursday, experts estimated the debris had covered an area bigger than 25 football pitches, with concerns rising over worsening air quality in nearby residential areas since the eruption began on September 19th, the volcano sending tongues of molten rock flowing out of its main cone.

READ ALSO: Lava from La Palma’s volcanic eruption already covers more than 100,000 sqm of sea

The lava flow produced by the Cumbre Vieja volcano falls into the Atlantic Ocean at Los Girres beach in Tazacorte on the Canary island of La Palma

The lava flow produced by the Cumbre Vieja volcano falls into the Atlantic Ocean at Los Girres beach in Tazacorte on the Canary island of La Palma early on September 30th, 2021. (Photo by Sunsets Sweden / AFP)

Despite the damage to countless homes and businesses, local people are coming together to show each other solidarity in a time of crisis.

Down in the port, fisherman Jesus Guillermo Hernandez Rodriguez, 49, defiantly hoses away sticky blackened volcanic sand which has covered his vessel.

“It is a daily job, maintaining the boats,” sighs Rodriguez, rubbing his white beard in frustration with weatherbeaten hands.

Even if he still tries to manage a minimum catch, most of what he does pick up “is not edible because of the sand,” the dark gunk sticking to what he does land.

What future?
Hernandez normally lands a catch worth around 3,000 euros a month which he shares with a colleague but this past fortnight is a virtual write-off and he expects more of the same for now as he worries about the cost.

He explains he operates in what is “one of the best fishing zones in the west of the island”.

But now it is covered with molten rock.

The area had already been reeling from the effects of the coronavirus, and Tazacorte was just keeping itself economically afloat when the eruption, the first on La Palma since 1971, hit.

Everybody in the village knows somebody who has suffered material loss, from houses engulfed in lava, to their job in a fishing industry left all but paralysed, the same fate befalling those working in agriculture or tourism.

“My son comes back home at night and tells me, ‘mum, yet another day I haven’t worked as we didn’t have a single table'” to serve, Nieves Acosta, 56, says of her son, a waiter in a restaurant.

“You talk about the future — but what future is there?,” she sobs.

“If there is no fishing then agriculture is hit, more than hit. What will become of our children?”

Rain of ash
The eruption brought dozens of journalists and scientists to rake over the island but their excited curiosity is in stark contrast to the serious and lined faces of locals.

“Here, people were happy but now they are hanging their heads,” says Cristina Sanchez, who lives in the nearby commune of Los Llanos de Aridane.

The “rain of ash” from the volcano “is driving me insane,” says Nieves, who works at a retirement home and who is taking a break over a coffee with Jesus, a friend who has just lost his job at a banana export firm.

Massive swathes of banana plantations dominate the scenery in Tazacorte — exports of the fruit are one of La Palma’s main earners.

Nieves, who refuses to give her surname, says she has little hope for the future after the volcano “destroyed everything.”

She says she just hopes that “when it’s all over people will come, that they will all come” and help put the shattered community back together again.


Since it began on September 19, the dramatic eruption of Cumbre Vieja has forced thousands out of their homes, while lava has destroyed hundreds of houses, businesses and huge swathes of banana plantations. (Photo by Sunsets Sweden / AFP)

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3,000 people in Spain’s La Palma forced indoors as lava reaches sea

Around 3,000 people were ordered to remain indoors on the Canary island of La Palma on Monday as lava from an erupting volcano reached the sea, risking the release of toxic gas.

3,000 people in Spain's La Palma forced indoors as lava reaches sea
The lava flow produced by the Cumbre Vieja volcano has reached the sea before. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

The Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan (Pevolca) “ordered the confinement” of residents of coastal towns and villages near where the lava cascaded into the sea, sending large plumes of white smoke into the air, local emergency services said on Twitter.

The order was given due to “the possible release of gases that are harmful to health,” it added.

The order affects “around 3,000” people on the island, Miguel Angel Morcuende, technical director of Pevolca, told a news conference.

This is the third time that a lava flow has reached the Atlantic Ocean since the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the south of the island erupted on September 19th, covering large areas with ash.

All flights to and from La Palma’s airport were cancelled on Monday because of the ash, the third straight day that air travel has been disrupted.

And for the first time since the eruption started, local authorities advised residents of La Palma’s capital, Santa Cruz de La Palma in the east, to use high-filtration FFP2 face masks to protect themselves from emissions of dioxide and sulphur.

Most of the island, which is home to around 85,000 people, is so far unaffected by the eruption.

But parts of the western side where lava flows have slowly made their way to the sea face an uncertain future.

The molten rock has covered 1,065 hectares (2,630 acres) and destroyed nearly 1,500 buildings, according to Copernicus, the European Union’s satellite monitoring service.

Lava has destroyed schools, churches, health centres and irrigation infrastructure for the island’s banana plantations — a key source of jobs — as well as hundreds of homes.

Provisional damage was estimated on Friday at nearly €900 million ($1 billion), according to the regional government.

The island of La Palma, part of the Canary Islands archipelago off northwestern Africa, is experiencing its third eruption in a century, with
previous ones in 1949 and 1971.