As lava from La Palma volcano continues to flow, hundreds more houses are at risk

At least 183 homes have already been destroyed on the Canary Island, although the progress of the molten rock has slowed compared to Monday

A house that escaped the advancing lava in Las Manchas on Monday. Video: The molten rock reaches other homes.Video: ALFONSO ESCALERO ( iLoveTheWorld) / VÍDEO: EPV
Guillermo Vega
El Paso (La Palma) -

A new fissure spewing out lava around 900 meters from the main eruption point and seven new earthquakes measuring between 2.3 and 3.8 on the Richter scale. Those were the latest events seen today on La Palma, in Spain’s Canary Islands, as the new volcano there continued to erupt, raising the tensions among the local population. The lava has already consumed at least 183 homes, according to government spokesperson Isabel Rodríguez, who was speaking today after the weekly Cabinet meeting. Including infrastructure such as swimming pools and sports installations, the total rises to 200.

The president of the island council, Mariano Hernández Zapata, said today during an interview on state broadcaster TVE that “double or triple” this number of houses could end up being lost to the advancing lava. On Monday night, a further 40 homes in the municipality of El Paso were also evacuated.

By the early hours of Tuesday morning, the lava had spread out to cover 103 hectares. That’s according to an analysis of the situation at 6am Tuesday by Copernicus, the European Union’s Earth Observation Program. The new fissure prompted the precautionary evacuation of 150 to 200 residents in the Tacande neighborhood in El Paso. What’s more, the lava is slowly moving toward Todoque, which is home to 1,300 inhabitants, in Los Llanos de Aridane. That’s according to the mayor of the municipality, Noelia García, who warned of an “imminent risk.” The residents there have already been evacuated. Todoque is located roughly halfway between the area where the first eruption took place on Sunday, Cumbre Vieja, and the sea.

A tweet showing the advance of the lava on La Palma.

One of the residents of Todoque who left the area is Rosendo Lea, 47, an electrician who left his house with his wife and 13-year-old son headed for Los Llanos, where his in-laws live. “My home is two kilometers from the lava and the fire,” he explained. “We are praying that it is not burned. It’s very small here and we all know each other. We are spending the day watching and saying, look at the house of this poor guy, it’s been burned.”

“I’m very anxious,” added Ana, Rosendo’s sister. “We’re all very anxious. I’m about to lose my parents’ home, where I’ve lived all my life, if the lava tongue enters the village.”

On Tuesday, after the crisis cabinet meeting that took place at midday today in Santa Cruz de La Palma, the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, the Canarian regional premier, Ángel Víctor Torres, and the president of La Palma island council, Mariano Hernández Zapata, all called on locals to take extreme precautions and avoid using the roads. “The emergency is still happening,” Sánchez said. “I want to stress,” Torres continued, “the need for the utmost precaution with a volcano that is active and that is moving unstoppably toward the sea.” The regional premier also announced that King Felipe VI would be visiting La Palma on Thursday.

The lava has also destroyed between 300 and 400 agricultural holdings, in particular those where bananas are grown

So far, around 6,000 residents have been evacuated, according to the central government spokesperson. Many of them explained that they have lost their homes. Prime Minister Sánchez, who flew to La Palma on Sunday evening, yesterday stated that these victims “would not be damaged economically,” even if they had suffered emotional losses.

The lava has also destroyed between 300 and 400 agricultural holdings, in particular those where bananas are grown. On Monday evening, around 400 goats were evacuated, as well as pigs and cattle.

The Canary Islands’ government has announced that financial relief will be available from the European Union Solidarity Funds to mitigate the damage caused, should the total exceed €400 million. For now, there is no official estimate of the cost.

The Volcanology Institute of the Canaries (Involcan) confirmed on Monday night that the lava flow appears to have slowed, from 300 meters per hour compared to 700 meters per hour on Monday morning. It is still unknown whether the molten rock will reach the sea or if in the end it will stop along the way. For now, the maritime authorities have extended an exclusion zone to two nautical miles around the area and have pointed out once more that no one can approach the area for safety reasons.

Fire crews monitor the advance of the lava in La Palma.
Fire crews monitor the advance of the lava in La Palma.Samuel Sánchez

A ship from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) is traveling to the island to study the possible effects of the arrival of the lava in the water. The IEO has calculated that the volcano is emitting between 7,997 and 10,665 tons of sulphur dioxide (SO₂) into the atmosphere each day.

These emissions intensified on Monday night after the new fissure opened in Tacanda, 900 meters away from the main one in Cumbre Vieja. It was accompanied by seismic activity measuring 3.8 on the Richter scale, and that was felt in other municipalities such as Los Llanos de Aridane, El Paso, Breña Alta and Santa Cruz de La Palma. Residents also felt another tremor that took place during the night and measured 3 on the Richter scale. The National Geographic Institute (IGN) has reported that there were two more earthquakes, but that these would not have been noted by those on the island.

While the lava continues to advance, the authorities are trying to keep normal life running as usual in parts of the island that are not under threat

For now there are no estimates as to how long the volcano will continue to spit out lava. The longest of those documented on the island was that of Tehuya, which took place in 1586 and lasted 84 days. The shortest, and until Sunday the last seen on the island, was Teneguía in 1971, which lasted 24 days.

While the lava continues to advance, the authorities are trying to keep normal life running as usual in parts of the island that are not under threat. The appearance of a new fissure has forced authorities to close a number of the island’s main roads, in particular the LP 2 near Tajuya, while restrictions have been put in place on the LP-3.

Basic services, telecommunications and power were all working normally on Tuesday, although there were concerns over the availability of water for irrigation. Neither air or sea traffic have so far been interrupted.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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