Volcanic eruption on La Palma intensifies as new vent and lava tongues emerge

Authorities are concerned that the molten rock could destroy more properties if it does not follow the route of the main flow

A composite of photos of the lava flowing into the sea. Video: Images of the new vent and flows (Spanish captions and audio). Video: PACO PUENTES / EL PAÍS / EPV
Guillermo Vega

The new volcano in Cumbre Vieja natural park, located on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma, continued to increase its eruptive force on Friday. Sources from the Spanish Geological and Mining Institute (IGME) said today that two new lava flows had emerged from a third vent that appeared during the night. These two rivers of molten rock have appeared around 400 meters from the crater, and are very liquid, according to the National Geographic Institute (IGN).

The new lava flows were observed by members of Spain’s Emergency Military Unit (UME), which has been deployed to assist with the crisis, and by the IGME. “At 2.20am on October 1, two new lava flows were formed, which have occupied two ravines and are heading toward the eastern area,” said Raúl Pérez, from the IGME, who was just a few hundred meters away when the new vent appeared. “The question is whether these are going to join the main lava flow.”

The new vent is the third to have opened since the volcano erupted on September 19. This means that, counting the crater, there are now four sites that are emitting lava. Up until now, most of the lava has been flowing to the sea from a vent that emerged last week.

According to the CSIC, one of the new lava flows is just north of the main one, and on Friday was advancing closely alongside it towards Los Llanos de Aridane, the most populous town in La Palma. Some neighborhoods in this town, such as Todoque, were evacuated last week due to the advance of the lava, which swallowed up great swathes of the area. According to the Canary Island regional network Televisión Canaria, this new lava flow had on Friday crossed the LP2 highway, which is a key road connection on the island.

“We have the biggest tragedy ahead of us, more people we have to help,” said Mariano Hernández Zapata, the president of the island council of La Palma. “We are worried about the course this new flow of lava could follow, although we hope that it will join the other.”

Satellite picture of lava flow following the eruption of a volcano on the island of La Palma.
Satellite picture of lava flow following the eruption of a volcano on the island of La Palma.EUROPEAN UNION, COPERNICUS SENTI (Reuters)

The IGN said that it still does not know how the two new rivers of molten rock will behave, but it is likely that they will rejoin the main lava flow. Manuel Nogales, a delegate from Spain’s national research institute CSIC in the Canary Islands, warned Televisión Canaria on Thursday that if the lava flowed down a different route from the main flow, it could lead to more property damage.

More than a thousand buildings have so far been damaged by the lava, according to the latest information from the European satellite system Copernicus. This information, however, does not distinguish between homes and other structures such as garages. To make these differentiations, the data will need to be cross-referenced with cadastral maps and information from local governments.

Since reaching the Atlantic Ocean on Tuesday, the molten rock has steadily been increasing the surface of the island. The outfall of the lava on what used to be Guirre beach now measures 19 hectares. As of Friday, the delta created by the lava was 50 meters tall and 320 meters wide, according to the Interior Ministry.

At a press conference on Friday, the regional leader of the Canary Islands, Ángel Victor Torres said that the volcano had released 80 million cubic meters of lava. This is approximately double the amount that was released during the eruption of Teneguía volcano in 1971 – the last to hit La Palma – in one-third of the time.

“We are all clear about what is the priority: helping the citizens of La Palma. Residents must be calm and proud of their institutions,” said Félix Bolaños, the minister for prime ministerial affairs, who was also at Friday’s press conference. Bolaños added that Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez would return to La Palma on Sunday.

On Thursday, María José Blanco, a volcanologist from the IGN, said that the volcano at Cumbre Vieja had not only maintained the same explosive force after the lava reached the sea, but had also increased its activity. The Volcano Risk Prevention Plan (Pevolca) found that there was no evidence that “the dynamic eruptive process was stable,” and as such, the land and maritime exclusion zone has remained in place.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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