Volcanic eruption on Spain’s La Palma hits one-month mark

A volcanic eruption on the Canary island of La Palma which has destroyed large swathes of land and buildings marked its first month on Tuesday with no end in sight.

The Cumbre Vieja volcano, pictured from the port of Tazacorte, has spewed lava, ash and smoke for a month in the Canary Island of La Palma. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP
The Cumbre Vieja volcano, pictured from the port of Tazacorte, has spewed lava, ash and smoke for a month in the Canary Island of La Palma. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

The volcano on one of the Canary Islands off northwest Africa erupted on September 19th, spewing out rivers of lava that have slowly crept towards the sea, covering large areas with ash.

So far no-one has been killed by the continuous lava flows, but the moltencrock has covered 763 hectares (1,885 acres) and destroyed 1,956 buildings, including hundreds of homes, according to the latest Spanish government figures.

After a month of continual eruptions accompanied by minor earthquakes, geologists say they have no idea how much longer it will last.

The volcano was putting out some 10,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide emissions per day, and to start being considered “extinct” it should emit 400 tonnes or less per day, David Calvo, an expert with the Involcan volcanology institute, told reporters.

The head of the regional government of the archipelago, Angel Victor Torres, said “nobody can say that this is nearing the end.”

About 7,000 people have been evacuated from their homes on the island, which has a population of around 85,000 people.

Calvo said a new lava stream was about 30 metres (100 feet) from the island’s western coast, when its interaction with the seawater will send clouds of acidic, toxic gas into the air which can be dangerous to inhale as it already did last month.

The slow-moving lava — which has a temperature of 1,100 degrees Celsius (2,012 degrees Fahrenheit) – – was expected to start falling into the water later on Tuesday and would likely lead officials to order area residents to stay indoors, he added.

This is the Atlantic island’s third volcanic eruption in a century, the last one taking place in 1971.

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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.