2021-09-22 19:30:50 Photos of an Eruption: Canary Island Volcano Sends Thousands Fleeing

Photos of an Eruption: Canary Island Volcano Sends Thousands Fleeing

On Wednesday, lava from a volcanic eruption on La Palma, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, wreaked havoc, destroying hundreds of homes, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people, and prompting warnings of toxic explosions.

The eruption on La Palma, the island’s first major one in 50 years, began on Sunday, and some experts have warned that lava could continue to spew for weeks.

According to local authorities, approximately 320 houses on the island off the coast of northwest Africa had been engulfed by fire and lava by Wednesday morning, 6,000 residents had been evacuated, and a few hundred other homes remained at risk. Despite the widespread devastation, no deaths or injuries have been reported thus far.

“We have always lived here fearing an eruption,” said Antonio Rodrguez Acosta, a retired schoolteacher who lives near Todoque and was evacuated on Sunday.

So far, the lava flow has spared his house, but he has lost a small vineyard nearby.

“This is a total disaster,” he declared. “It’s one thing to know it could happen one day, and it’s quite another to have to live through it all at once.”

On Wednesday, firefighters and other emergency personnel were frantically excavating a ravine to divert lava away from Todoque.

“The main uncertainty is how long this will last,” said Arnau Folch, a volcanologist at the Spanish National Research Council.

Mr. Folch, on the other hand, pointed out that a 1971 eruption lasted about three weeks.

“It appears that what is happening now will be very similar to what happened 50 years ago,” he said.

Mr. Folch stated that one major danger is the possibility of powerful blasts if the lava flow reaches the ocean. The lava can be fragmented into exceptionally fine-grained ash as the water expands explosively into jets of steam. Another source of concern is the potential release of toxic gases from lava-to-seawater reactions.

La Palma is one of the smaller and less populated Canary Islands, along with Lanzarote and Tenerife, both of which are popular tourist destinations.

Because the archipelago is located on a volcanic hot spot, the islands are closely monitored by scientists, who have set up several earthquake monitoring stations.

La Palma has been under close scrutiny since 2017, when seismic activity increased there, indicating the possibility of an eruption. Scientists issued warnings this month after recording thousands of minor earthquakes. The tremors and images of the eruption were also captured by Copernicus, the European Union’s observation satellite program.

The geology of the Canary Islands allows lava and gases to escape through fissures, resulting in eruptions of varying intensity and location. The eruption on Sunday was followed two days later by the opening of another vent, which caused more earthquakes.

The lava’s advance toward the ocean has been slowed by flatter terrain since Tuesday, but local authorities have declared a two-nautical-mile exclusion zone in the waters surrounding the island in case volcanic activity causes underwater explosions that threaten shipping.

Scientists say it’s too early to tell whether more eruptions will occur or how much lava will be released.

Héctor Lamolda Ordóez, an earth sciences engineer who teaches at Madrid’s Complutense University, said the eruption was still in its early stages, when new vents could appear while others were plugged. “Activity is likely to be concentrated in just a few vents,” he predicted.

Residents of some of the evacuated hamlets and villages near the national park where the volcano is located, Cumbre Vieja, were allowed to return to their homes on Tuesday and Wednesday under close supervision from emergency services to salvage personal belongings.

Others, on the other hand, were advised to keep their distance.

“The area is far from safe,” said Mariano Hernández Zapata, an island official, to local news outlets.

Tourists, for the most part, received a mixed message.

Reyes Maroto, Spain’s tourism minister, was forced to retract comments he made on radio suggesting that the eruption could be “an attraction” for visitors who might “enjoy what nature has brought to La Palma.” Following a backlash, Ms. Maroto stated that the priority was to assist the thousands of affected islanders.

Veronika Siewers, who runs a scuba diving club on La Palma’s southern tip, said she had already had a number of bookings canceled.

“Every hour, I get calls from people asking if they can still come, and I honestly don’t know what to tell them,” she said.

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Photos of an Eruption: Canary Island Volcano Sends Thousands Fleeing