Disasters & Accidents

Lava slows on Spain’s La Palma Island, not expected to reach sea Monday night

Santa Cruz de La Palma, Spain, Sep 20 (EFE).- The lava flow from a volcanic eruption on the Spanish island of La Palma, part of the Canary Islands, has slowed down in recent hours and is not expected to reach the Atlantic Ocean on Monday night, the director of that archipelago’s volcanic risk prevention plan said.

That does not mean, however, that the eruptive activity has diminished, according to Miguel Angel Morcuende, who said it remains to be seen if the lava flow will continue to slow further or not.

Morcuende and a technician from the Canary Island government’s General Directorate of Security and Emergencies, Jorge Parra, spoke at a press conference Monday evening after a meeting of an emergency management committee that was attended by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

The molten rock, which had been moving earlier in the day at an average speed of 700 meters (2,295 feet) per hour, devoured houses, infrastructure and farmland in its path after erupting from the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge at 3.13 pm local time Sunday.

According to technicians, an estimated 100 houses are known to have been affected to date, although a precise calculation will not be possible until after the volcanic activity has subsided.

Although the lava has caused significant material damage, there have been no reports of human casualties, Mariano Hernandez Zapata, head of the local council, said Monday.

Technicians say no one’s health or safety will be at risk as long as they follow authorities’ recommendations.

Parra said the main concern is the effect on agriculture, noting that the lava flow cut off a canal that is a key conduit for the supply of irrigation water to farms.

Specialists had prepared for the volcanic event, having monitored tens of thousands of tremors in the region in recent weeks.

“One hundred percent of the people are safe,” Hernandez Zapata said, adding that authorities can turn their attention to infrastructure damage and the loss of homes to the lava flow.

La Palma is the northwestern-most island of the Canaries archipelago, while Cumbre Vieja is one of the most active volcanic complexes on the islands and the site of two of the last three eruptions registered in the area: the San Juan Volcano in 1949 and the Teneguia Volcano in 1971.

Local octogenarian Juan “Ovidio” Diaz remembers them all.

“This is the weakest,” he said from a military barracks that is serving as a temporary shelter and where some 200 others, including many tourists, have been offered accommodation. “I’m not scared,” he said, adding that he had brought his own food with him.

The eruption spewed lava and a dark column of pyroclastic ash into the air, while magma rose to the surface through fissures in the mountainside.

The volcano has emitted between 6,000 and 9,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere over the past 24 hours, according to the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute (Involcan).

Between 17 and 20 million cubic meters of lava are expected to flow from the eruption but a secondary eruption is not expected, the regional president of the Canary Islands, Angel Victor Torres, told reporters.

Since Sept. 11, Spain’s National Geographical Institute and Involcan have detected thousands of small earthquakes around the Cumbre Vieja. Their foci started more than 20 kilometers (13 miles) underground but had been moving steadily toward the surface as the magma worked its way upward due to huge pressure from below.

The surface temperature of the lava can reach highs of 1,113 C (2,035 F), and scientists have warned of toxic steam when it comes into contact with the ocean.

Sanchez postponed his scheduled trip to the United Nations General Assembly to travel to the island and oversee operations, although he will travel to New York on Tuesday afternoon.

Spain’s King Felipe VI, meanwhile, on Monday conveyed a message of encouragement to all those affected by the volcanic eruption and praised the work of emergency personnel who are assisting some 5,500 evacuees.

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