Volcanic eruption in La Palma: Part of cone collapses, increasing lava flow

No more evacuations are being considered for now, but authorities warn the situation could change at any moment

Santa Cruz de La Palma - Oct 04, 2021 - 15:18

Residents of La Palma, in Spain’s Canary Islands, remained on tenterhooks on Monday, after a weekend of intense activity from the new volcano in Cumbre Vieja national park, which has been erupting since September 19.

Part of the volcanic cone collapsed late Sunday night, which led to an increase in lava flow, according to the Volcanology Institute of the Canary Islands (Involcan). The main lava tongue now has a breadth of over 1.2 km at its widest point, 300 meters more than on Sunday, authorities reported.

This scenario had been forecast by scientists, given that the mound of material formed by the eruption, such as lava that is yet to cool and pyroclastic rocks, is not stable. “The material is very broken and the cone is in constant movement,” Itahiza Domínguez, a seismologist from the National Geographic Institute (IGN), told Canary Island regional network Televisión Canaria on Sunday.

But while the collapse led to a clear increase in the volcano’s effusive activity, the lava continued to flow down the main channel of molten rock. On Friday, there were concerns that new lava flows could put more properties at risk if they followed a different path – a situation that has not yet occurred.

“The news from early this morning confirms that the lava is flowing over the previous flow,” the premier of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres, told state broadcaster RTVE on Monday. The regional leader said that while more areas had been confined due to the poor air quality, no new evacuations were being considered for now. But he warned: “We are not at the end, we don’t know what moment we are in. We are in the hands of nature.”

For now, lava is flowing out of three main points: the fissure that emerged from the September 19 eruption and two more vents (one of which is made up of two emission points).

The lava has so far affected more than 400 hectares of land and destroyed 1,074 buildings, according to the latest information from the European satellite system Copernicus. “If the lava continues spewing out in the amounts we have seen tonight, there will be more damage,” Torres said.

On Sunday, the volcano released 16,000 tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, according to Involcan. This sulfur, combined with a cloud of dust from the Sahara Desert, reached as far as Puerto Rico, the Caribbean Astronomy Society reported on Sunday. That same day, the poor air quality prompted the technical director of the Volcano Risk Prevention Plan (Pevolca), Miguel Ángel Morcuende, to order the evacuation of scientists and emergency service personnel working within the security perimeter – an area that is 2.5 kilometers from the volcanic cone. Air quality was also forecast to worsen in the south and east of the island on Monday and Tuesday due to strong winds blowing volcanic ash into the area.

Meanwhile, La Palma was hit by more than 40 small tremors between Sunday and Monday – including one measuring 3.7 on the Richter scale in the municipality of Fuencaliente and another measuring 3.4 on the Richter scale in the town of Villa de Mazo, the IGN reported.

According to Mariano Hernández Zapata, the leader of the island council, life “continues as normal” for more than 90% of people on La Palma, which is located in the volcanic Canaries archipelago off the northeastern coast of Africa. Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Zapata said that the ports and airports remain open, and that La Palma is “absolutely safe.”

But residents remain anxious about the future. Over the weekend, those who had been evacuated due to the advance of the lava were allowed to return to their homes briefly to collect their belongings. Sara Campbell, a British national who had rented a home in Jedey, explained that she has moved to a home in Tijarafe in the north of the island, but doesn’t know what she will do. “It’s still too soon to make decisions,” she said.

PM announces €206 million in support

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced yesterday that the Cabinet will approve a €206-million recovery plan for La Palma at its weekly meeting on Tuesday. Sánchez, who made the announcement on his third visit to the island since the eruption, said that the “powerful package of measures” includes initiatives such as restoring water supply, as well as investment in employment, homes, agriculture and tourism.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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