Society 25/09/2021

La Palma volcano cone breaks up and opens new vents

The eruption entered a more explosive phase yesterday and 160 more residents had to be evacuated

3 min
The eruption on La Palma, this morning

The eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Canary island of La Palma continues to increase in intensity. After the volcano entered a more explosive phase yesterday and two new eruptive vents were opened, very close to each other, this Saturday another new vent has opened, located to the west of the main one, according to the Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands (Involcan). In addition, early this afternoon, the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain added that the volcano's cone has broken and left a new "enormous" flow - in the words of geologist Carlos Lorenzo - which is advancing towards the sea.

The increased activity of the volcano and the instability of the cone yesterday forced the emergency evacuation of three more villages: Tajuya, Tacande de Abajo and the residents of Tacande de Arriba who had not yet been evacuated. In total, 160 people have been evacuated, bringing the total number of people evacuated since the eruption began last Sunday to 6,200. Early this afternoon there is a new meeting of the steering committee of the Special Plan for Civil Protection and Emergency Care due to Volcanic Risk (Pevolca). 

The volcano currently has four active lava flows. The northern one has a maximum front height of 12 metres, while the secondary one has a maximum front height of 10 metres and the third one, which is the one that emerged yesterday as a result of the new eruptive vents, flows to the south, above the previous one. The lava flows in an east-west direction and has a length of 3,800 metres, 2,100 metres from the coast. According to the geologists who have warned of the fourth eruption, it is located in the south-western part of the volcano and "leaves an enormous flow of very large blocks that is moving towards the sea".

A decision has to be made today on whether the people who were evacuated yesterday will be able to return home to collect their belongings. The General Directorate of Security and Emergencies urged them to evacuate yesterday due to the increased instability and increased activity of the volcano, which could cause ash and volcanic material to reach much further than they were doing, as well as vibrations and detonations. Although the residents were initially asked to stay indoors, fifteen minutes later they were directed to the El Pozo football field to coordinate their evacuation.

According to the director of the National Geographic Institute (IGN) in the Canary Islands, María José Blanco, the risk was initially assessed to be only of intense ash fallout, perhaps with some slightly larger pyroclastic particles, but it was later found that the sudden increase in explosiveness posed three threats to neighbours: larger material falling, the possibility of being exposed to the lava flows and, in the worst case scenario, being within range if the cone collapsed. The two new vents yesterday afternoon were spewing fluid lava that was spilling downwards, according to the Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands and the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain, which said that within an hour of the vents opening, which started very intensely, the lava flows had travelled about a kilometre before expanding and slowing to 60 to 80 metres per hour.

The third vice-president and minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, said on Saturday that it will be "a long time" before civilian infrastructure or inhabitable areas swallowed up by the eruption can be recovered. Yesterday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced that they plan to declare the island a disaster area and will work with local authorities on a special plan to rebuild the island. This plan will be dealt with in a joint commission between administrations, and will promote both immediate and longer-term measures.