The glowing lava flow from the volcano, which erupted ten days ago on the island of La Palma in the Spanish Canary Islands, continued to flow into the Atlantic on Wednesday afternoon, but the wind pushed the poisonous gases into the sea and thus protected, for the time being, a traumatized local population.
Posted on Sep 28, 2021 at 7:41 pm Updated Sep 29, 2021 at 9:55 am
Désirée MARTÍN Agence France-Presse
Pictures from Playa Nueva on the west coast of the island showed a lava flow falling into the ocean from the top of a 100-meter-high cliff amid gigantic clouds of steam.
The Spanish Institute of Oceanography pointed out in a tweet with supporting images that the lava in the sea is gaining ground, its accumulation in the water forms a kind of deposit, a pyramid that is about fifty meters high and is still growing.
The most important risk, which toxic gases arise from sudden contact between a lava with a temperature of more than 1000 degrees Celsius and sea water with a temperature of 22 or 23 degrees, seemed to be eliminated immediately thanks to the wind. Provided, of course, that he doesn’t change direction …
“We have a strong wind over the area at this moment, which continues to dissolve towards the sea (the gas clouds), so the risk is much lower” than expected by the experts, said Rubén Fernández, one of the people in charge of the volcanic national radio Canary Islands Emergency Plan (Pevolca).
This meeting of lava and sea water was particularly feared, as it leads to the formation of toxic gases and harmful particles.
“Inhaling or coming into contact with acidic gases and liquids can irritate the skin, eyes and airways and lead to breathing difficulties,” warned the Institute of Volcanology of the Canary Islands (Involcan).
To avoid this risk, the regional government of the archipelago has issued a security perimeter with a radius of 3.5 km on land and two nautical miles at sea around the location where the lava was expected.
Lava infiltration into the ocean came shortly after 11 p.m. local time (Tuesday 6 p.m. EDT) on Tuesday after the lava flow ejected from Cumbre Vieja volcano suddenly accelerated its speed.
The volcano erupted on September 19th.
“The lava now has an open channel to the ocean […], a perfectly marked path that will lead to the sea, ”said David Calvo, spokesman for Involcan, in an interview with national television TVE.
He rated it as “good news” because this way to the ocean “prevents there new blockages, new lava dams” that would force him to spread sideways to other areas.
During those ten days the lava flow devastated everything in its path – buildings, fields, roads … – causing the demise and despair of much of the population of this small island, estimated at around 85,000 people.
In an interview with COPE Radio, the president of the archipelago’s regional government, Ángel Víctor Torres, spoke of “terrible devastation”.
Because the toll will be very high and the disaster will leave its mark.
“Residents who have lost their homes […] need to be cared for above all because they have to come to terms with the fact that they have lost their home, for many of them their livelihood, ”continued Mr Torres.
He painted the picture of an island completely disfigured by a lava flow with a width of up to 600 meters in places. “There’s nothing left in this whole area but lava,” he said. “The island of La Palma is a different island in this part”.
The penetration of the lava debris into the ocean came hours after the government released € 10.5 million in direct aid to victims on Tuesday.
The lava destroyed at least 656 buildings – not all of which are residential – and covered 268 acres of land.
Mr Torres also stressed that the banana plantations – the island’s main activity alongside tourism – had suffered “significant damage”. “We are talking about a third of the banana production of all Canaries,” he said.
The outbreak did not leave any deaths or injuries, but resulted in the evacuation of more than 6,000 people who were forced to leave their homes.
The two previous eruptions on La Palma took place in 1949 and 1971. They killed three in all, two of them by gas inhalation.