La Palma volcano: Lava rivers flowing towards sea spark toxic gas fears amid constant earthquakes and tremors

Thousands of people evacuated and at least 183 homes damaged

Lamiat Sabin
Tuesday 21 September 2021 21:28
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La Palma volcano: Lava flows into swimming pool, vaporising it instantly
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Streams of volcanic lava have continued to create paths of destruction on the island of La Palma as they cascade towards the sea.

The Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on Sunday afternoon after locals had endured more than 20,000 tremors since 11 September.

The eruption, on one of the Canary Islands situated off the coast of Morocco, is the first time in 50 years that the Cumbre Vieja has spewed lava.

Fountains of lava reached heights of up to 5,000ft – nearly twice that of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper – the National Geographic said.

Since the volcano opened up, rivers of lava has been moving downhill across the La Palma’s countryside towards the more densely populated coastline, burning everything they come into contact with, while earthquakes on the island continue.

Lava at temperatures of more than 1,000C was still flowing at 700m (2,300ft) per hour on Monday, according to the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute.

On Tuesday, officials said a river of lava was bearing down on the neighbourhood of Todoque, where more than 1,000 people live and where emergency services were preparing evacuations.

The lava has so far covered 106 hectares (about 260 acres) of land, according to the European Union’s earth observation programme Copernicus, previously known as GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security).

About 6,000 people on La Palma – an island of roughly 85,000 people – have been evacuated so far and 183 houses damaged, government spokeswoman Isabel Rodriguez said after a cabinet meeting in Madrid.

No fatalities or injuries have been reported. Firefighters have also been seen evacuating animals such as goats.

Four villages were evacuated, including El Paso and Los Llanos de Aridane, with shelters set up for displaced residents.

Fernando Diaz, a municipal worker in El Paso, said: “The truth is that it’s a tragedy to see people losing their properties.

“For the lucky ones they would have some peace in knowing that their homes haven’t been affected. This uncertainty is complicated.”

La Palma president Mariano Hernandez urged people to stay away from the island and described the scenes of damage as “bleak”.

The head of the Canary Islands regional government, Angel Victor Torres, said authorities would ask for EU financial aid to help rebuild.

He said damage already amounted to much more than £340m (€400m), which means the island qualifies for emergency EU aid.

Mr Torres described the region as a “catastrophe zone” and said he would request money to rebuild road and water supply networks and create temporary accommodation for families who have lost their homes, farmland, and livelihoods.

Authorities said the speed of the streams of lava appeared to have slowed down and that they didn’t expect them to reach the Atlantic Ocean before Wednesday at the earliest, according to Spanish news agency Europa Press.

When the flow of lava – which can last for weeks or months – reaches the sea, it could cause explosions and produce clouds of toxic gas, scientists have warned.

The volcano has been spewing out between 8,000 and 10,500 tons of sulfur dioxide a day, the Volcanology Institute said.

Diana Morant, Spanish minister of science and innovation, said : “There is still no scientific answer on how long the eruption of La Palma will last.”

But, she added, analysis of the lava and gases suggests that it could last between one and three weeks.

The last Canary Islands eruption, which occurred underwater off the coast of the island of El Hierro island in 2011, lasted five months.

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