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New areas evacuated on La Palma as lava destroys more homes

A river of molten rock reached the town center of La Laguna on Wednesday, forcing many elderly residents to leave their properties

La Palma volcano on Wednesday night.

The new volcano on La Palma, in Spain’s Canary Islands, forced more evacuations on Wednesday after lava reached the town center of La Laguna. A gas station, supermarket, soccer field and the homes of hundreds of locals were swallowed up by the molten rock, which has been flowing out of the volcano since the eruption began on September 19. Even the church where Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia had spoken to victims a month ago was destroyed by the lava. “Broken dreams and lost years,” said Mariano Hernández Zapata, the head of La Palma island council, on Wednesday in response to the destruction.

As the lava advanced in La Laguna, which has one of the largest populations in the municipality of Los Llanos de Aridane, authorities decided to evacuate more areas on Wednesday night. In an operation coordinated by the Civil Guard, residents in the neighborhoods of Marina Alta, Marina Baja, La Condesa and Cuesta Zapata in the municipality of Tazacorte, as well as those in La Martelas neighborhood in Los Llanos de Aridane, were forced to leave their homes. The order affected between 40 and 50 homes, many of which belong to elderly locals. “It had to happen to us too… Is this never going to end?” asked Mariam González, a 76-year-old resident from Marina Baja, whose daughter and son-in-law came to help her pack up.

Meanwhile, a German couple was in a state of near-panic, with the language barrier exacerbating their anxiety. “Take basic things for tonight, tomorrow you will be able to come back and collect more things,” a municipal worker told them.

“These are tremendously hard times and the symptoms don’t show that we are close to the end,” Ángel Víctor Torres, the Canary Islands premier, said on Wednesday, adding that the regional government was working around the clock to provide new homes for victims and irrigation for plantations affected by the eruption. “We can’t say in the case of La Laguna whether it is going to cause partial or complete damage, but we hope not,” he said. “We are at the complete mercy of the volcano, but we will do all that is humanly possible to ease their suffering.”

Residents load their belongings as they are evacuated from Tazacorte.
Residents load their belongings as they are evacuated from Tazacorte. SUSANA VERA (Reuters)

As of Thursday, the lava had covered an area measuring 866.1 hectares and had also destroyed 2,158 buildings – 229 in the previous 48 hours alone, according to the latest data from the European observation system Copernicus. The data, however, does not reflect the anguish of the residents of La Palma, which is located in the Canary Islands archipelago off the coast of northwestern Africa.

The town center of La Laguna was under threat on Wednesday from two lava flows. Miguel Ángel Morcuende, the director of the Canaries Volcano Risk Prevention Plan (Pevolca), which is overseeing the crisis, explained that one of the flows had branched off, “grown over the morning” and “was moving quite quickly.” This lava tongue was responsible for destroying the gas station in La Laguna. But according to Morcuende, once the lava moves away from areas that have already been razed, it loses momentum as it picks up objects and becomes less viscous. This is what is now happening in the area, he said.

A car loaded with belongings following the evacuation order on Wednesday night.
A car loaded with belongings following the evacuation order on Wednesday night.Ángel Medina G. (EFE)

Another lava flow is advancing around the south side of the Montaña de La Laguna, a mountain in the municipality of the same name. On Wednesday morning it was 90 meters from the coast. “If the flow reaches the sea, we will order a confinement, which has already been prepared,” explained Morcuende. The measure – due to the risk of toxic gases from the contact of the lava with water – will affect around 3,000 people.

Live feed of the volcanic eruption on La Palma.

In the meantime, seismic activity on the island increased slightly on Thursday. Since midnight, 38 tremors have been recorded on La Palma, according to the National Geographic Institute (IGN). The largest measured 4.3 on the Richter scale and was registered in Villa de Mazo, at a depth of 37 kilometers. Most of the quakes, however, continue to hit closer to the surface. The good news is that there has not been significant seismic activity at this level, meaning the emergence of a new volcanic vent is unlikely.

In the next 24 hours, northeasterly winds are forecast to push the cloud of ash and sulfur dioxide toward the southeast of the island, which will affect areas such as Los Llanos de Aridane, Tazacorte and Fuencaliente. This, however, will improve conditions at La Palma airport and is a “favorable scenario” for operations at other airports in the Canary Islands, according to Pevolca.

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