La Palma’s volcanic eruption not close to ending, experts warn

There is no prospect of the volcanic eruption in Spain's Canary Islands ending "in the short or medium term", experts said Wednesday after three-and-a-half weeks of activity.

La Palma's volcanic eruption not close to ending, experts warn
The Cumbre Vieja volcano spews lava, ash and smoke in the Canary Island of La Palma. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

At the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma island, “levels of sulphur dioxide don’t currently lead us to think the end of the eruption will be in the short or medium term,” said Maria Jose Blanco, spokesman for the Canaries’ volcanologist group Pevolca.

Other experts have suggested the event could last for weeks or even months.

Beginning on September 19th, the latest eruption is the third in a century for La Palma, an island of 85,000 people, after San Juan in 1949 and Teneguía in 1971.

“The volcano’s activity is not stopping and it doesn’t seem that we can expect to observe a reduction in the coming days,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Wednesday, during his fourth visit to the island since the eruption.

So far no-one has been killed by the continuous lava flows, but the molten rock has covered around 640 hectares (1,600 acres) and destroyed 1,400 buildings, 764 of them homes, Pevolca technical director Miguel Angel Morcuende said.

More than 6,000 people have been evacuated, hundreds of them leaving all their belongings to the lava.

Flights are currently reaching La Palma’s airport, which has been closed twice during the eruption due to volcanic ash.

Weather forecasts suggest it will be able to remain open for at least the next four days.

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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.