Some of Spain’s top government and state officials are due to fly to the island of La Palma on Thursday to survey the damage from an ongoing volcanic eruption that has sent rivers of lava into populated areas, forcing the evacuation of around 6,000 people and destroying 350 homes along its slow path toward the sea.
King Felipe, Queen Letizia and Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez – who is flying in directly from New York, where he addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday – will speak with people who have been displaced from their homes after the tongues of molten rock engulfed 166.2 hectares of land by the most recent count on Thursday morning.
The government has pledged to facilitate and speed up access to financial aid to rebuild damaged infrastructure; there will also be fiscal measures for affected individuals and businesses, as well as specific aid for fishing and agriculture, which are the main drivers of the local economy along with tourism. The land covered by the lava will be unfit for cultivation for decades to come, and if it reaches the ocean, it will alter the marine ecosystem.
The regional government of the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory which is located off the northwestern coast of Africa, said it will use prefabricated buildings and purchase 73 empty homes in La Palma to house displaced people who have nobody to stay with.
By Wednesday afternoon the lava had already entered the neighborhood of Todoque, part of the municipality of Los Llanos de Aridane, where it slowly crushed every building in its path despite firefighters’ efforts to divert it toward a ravine. When it crosses Todoque, the wall of lava will find a succession of farms and agricultural estates, many of which grow bananas in this hot and humid part of the island. But the front is now advancing just four meters every hour, down from a peak of 700 meters per hour on Monday morning, leading scientists to believe it may not reach the ocean after all.
The tongues of molten rock have also damaged roads in the southwest portion of the island, some of which remain closed to traffic: LP-2 at Tajuya, LP-212 at El Paso, LP-2132 at Todoque; LP-211, LP-213 and LP-215 at Los Llanos de Aridane.
Another effect of the volcanic eruption at Cabeza de Vaca, inside the natural park of Cumbre Vieja, is atmospheric pollution. A cloud of gas and ash emanating from the volcano is now spreading throughout the entire archipelago, and is expected to reach mainland Spain between Thursday and Friday. Experts are most concerned about sulfur dioxide, which could create sulfuric acid in combination with water molecules in the clouds and come down as acid rain. By the time the sulfur dioxide reaches the Iberian peninsula, however, its concentration is expected to be a lot lower than on the islands, according to the EU’s satellite program Copernicus.
José Antonio Gamarra, a military official sent to La Palma with the Emergency Military Unit (UME), said on Thursday that local residents should not be concerned about the air they are breathing because all air quality analyses conducted by his unit have turned up negative results.
Based on reporting by Antonio Jiménez Barca, José Marcos, Guillermo Abril, Elsa García de Blas and Nuño Domínguez.
English version by Susana Urra.