La Palma volcano: 40-foot wall of lava bears down on Canaries village

Locals escorted back into homes to gather handful of belongings to save from destruction

Tim Wyatt
Thursday 23 September 2021 11:39
La Palma volcano continues to roar as expert urges people to 'stay away from lava'

A volcanic eruption in the Canary Islands sent a wall of lava 12 metres high cascading down upon a village, forcing locals to flee before their homes were engulfed.

The Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma, the largest island in the archipelago, began spewing molten rock on Sunday and by Wednesday it had crept close enough to the village of Todoque that an evacuation was ordered.

Villagers were forced to queue outside the path of the lava flow and wait to be escorted back so they could quickly grab some belongings to be saved from the destruction.

In the distance, the lava oozed down the hillside towards the Atlantic Ocean. Experts said it could either continue flowing the final 2km into the sea, or it could slow down and spread out, smothering a larger area of countryside.

Javier Lopez said his house for the past three decades appeared to be in the path of the lava.

He and his relatives had been staying at a friend’s house with the few documents, photos and basic belongings they had grabbed on Monday as they were hurriedly evacuated.

"I’ve put my whole life in a van," Lopez told the AP news agency, waiting for his turn to try to recover a vehicle and other valuables he had left behind.

"This is probably going to be the last time I see my home. Or, in the best-case scenario, the house will remain isolated by the lava and inaccessible for who knows how long."

Firefighters are attempting to divert the molten rock away from the houses in Todoque by digging a trench.

Other residents were trying to remain positive and calm despite the imminent destruction. Melisa Rodriguez said: "It’s hard to think straight about what you want to save, but we are only allowed in for one hour and you don’t want to take longer because that would be taking time away from others.”

The eruption was following an "expected pattern" but much remained uncertain, Vicente Soler, a volcanologist with Spain’s top scientific body, told the BTC broadcaster.

"It is difficult to say if the lava will reach the sea. If the source remains active and with a steady flow, it will be easy for it to arrive at the ocean. But if there are new lava diversions, that will slow down the flow’s head."

About a thousand people have now been evacuated from Todoque, bringing the total number of those forced from their homes by the eruption on La Palma to 6,800.

As well as the slow-moving lava, the island could soon face more earthquakes, volcanic ash fall, acid rain and smaller rocks hurled into the air by the strength of the volcano.

And when the lava does reach the sea it could trigger landslides, explosions and produce clouds of toxic gas, the authorities have warned.

Locals with children have been advised to keep them inside as much as possible because the eruption has affected air quality across the island.

La Palma is one of the most volcanically active islands in the Canaries. Cumbre Vieja has erupted three times since the 18th century, in 1949, 1971 and currently.

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