Fifth vent opens up on La Palma volcano, increasing lava flow

Seismic activity on the Canary Island has also increased ‘notably,’ with more than 80 quakes recorded since Sunday

New volcano on La Palma seen from the lookout at Tajuya.Photo: ÁLVARO GARCÍA | Video: INVOLCAN

A fifth vent opened up on Sunday on the new volcano on La Palma, in Spain’s Canary Islands. According to volcanologist Rubén López, from the National Geographic Institute (IGN), the volcano – which has been erupting since September 19 – now has three vents inside the main cone and two more on its western side.

Due to the opening of the new vent, the amount of magma reaching the surface increased, leading the lava to overflow Sunday afternoon. The volcanic cone on Saturday also began to emit lava – before then it had only been spewing out pyroclastic material. Miguel Ángel Morcuende, the technical director of the Canaries Volcano Risk Prevention Plan (Pevolca), which is managing the crisis, explained that this “is an important fact because in the end there is a redistribution of magma to other points.”

With more lava being released, new flows of molten rock have emerged. One of these is moving towards the neighborhood of Las Manchas, which was one of the first areas to be evacuated when the eruption began. This new flow is moving towards the southeast, although the lava feeding it is also being channeled to existing flows. For now, the tongue of lava is not posing any immediate threat. Although it is moving towards the neighborhood of Corazoncillo in the town of Los Llanos de Aridane, where the first flows passed through, it is likely to join the flow closest to it, which would be good news.

The new flows are already having an impact on La Palma, which is part of the Canaries archipelago off the coast of northwestern Africa. According to the latest data from the European observation system Copernicus, the lava has destroyed 2,146 buildings and covered 901.2 hectares. In other words, nearly nine hectares were razed in the space of nine hours. This period of time coincides with the opening of the fifth volcanic vent and the appearance of the new lava flow.

Most of the lava flowing out on Sunday was being channeled down the first flow of molten rock that emerged from the volcano in Cumbre Vieja, a natural park in southern La Palma. This stream reached the Atlantic Ocean on September 28 and has since created a lava platform.

But the lava flow of most concern continues to be the one that entered the town center of La Laguna neighborhood in Los Llanos de Aridane. This flow has razed dozens of homes and almost completely destroyed the local school – only one building and the courtyard remain standing. “We continue to hope that it will advance towards the south, because that would prevent problems with respect to homes,” Morcuende said on Saturday. If the flow, which has now stopped in front of a local church, moves in a southerly direction, the damage would mostly affect banana plantations.

Live feed of the volcanic eruption on La Palma.

Morcuende also confirmed on Saturday that part of the main volcanic cone had collapsed, which was causing lava to overflow on the northeastern side of the volcano. On Monday morning, IGN seismologist Itahiza Domínguez warned that the eastern part of the secondary cone may have also partially collapsed.

“Here we see how the pyroclastic materials from the eruption fall onto the slope of the cone. In this way, the volcano is gaining height. As it is loose material, as it [the buildup] increases, the likelihood of partial collapses also increases,” Domínguez wrote in a message on Twitter.

La Palma also saw an increase in seismic activity over the weekend. “This seismic activity has increased notably in frequency and magnitude,” according to a Pevolca report released on Sunday, which added that some quakes had been recorded at depths greater than 20 kilometers. Between midnight and 7am on Monday, more than 80 quakes hit La Palma, although none measured more than 3.5 on the Richter scale, according to the IGN. The previous night more than 200 tremors were registered by the IGN, one of which measured 4.3 on the Richter scale.

Spanish PM visits La Palma

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez made his fifth visit to La Palma since the eruption began on September 19. “I want to announce that next Tuesday at the Cabinet meeting, we are going to modify the budget to speed up the arrival of economic resources for both the Employment Plan as well as the aid for the agricultural and fishing sector,” he said. The measures, aimed at improving job opportunities and supporting the industries hardest hit by the eruption, are worth €65 million and €6.8 million, respectively.

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