Disasters & Accidents

Scientists monitor potentially toxic steam as La Palma lava hits coast

(Update 1: Adds details throughout, alters lede, headline)

Santa Cruz de La Palma, Spain, Sep 29 (EFE).- The column of potentially toxic steam and gases rising from the point where the lava flow from the volcano on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma meets the sea has so far not affected populated areas.

Emergency services on the island had told residents on the western coast to stay at home with their doors and windows closed as a preventative measure after the flow of molten rock, which revitalized this week, reached the Atlantic late Tuesday.

The thermal reaction that takes place when the over 1,000 C (1,832F) lava hits the roughly 20C sea can release toxic gases that scientists at the Canary Island emergency volcano department Pevolca worried would blow over the island communities.

Rubén Fernández, technical director at Pevolca, said that outside of the 2-kilometer perimeter, the volcanic emissions did not currently pose a threat to the population, who could carry on as normal aside from the “uncomfortable” ash fallout from the eruption.

The evacuation order for the towns of San Borondón, Marina Alta, Marina Baja and La Condesa near the lava’s point of contact with the ocean would remain in place until scientists are able to rule out the risk of toxic gases affecting the area.

Fernández added that, if weather conditions permit it, farmers forced to abandon their land because of the volcano may be briefly allowed to tend to their plantations and to remove equipment from the exclusion zone on Thursday.

He warned however that the eruption of the volcano, which opened on the active Cumbre Vieja ridge 10 days ago, was not “stabilized” and that it could still run “out of control.”

The lava flow from the volcano has destroyed at least 656 buildings and damaged nearly 90 others, according to the latest calculations from the EU’s Copernicus Earth Monitoring Service.

Director of the National Geographic Institute in the Canaries, María José Blanco, warned that the Strombolian eruption — a term for a relatively mild eruption — could continue to evolve with lulls and highs in its seismic activity. EFE


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