Society 22/09/2021

Eruption on La Palma has covered 153 hectares and lava "is impossible" to divert

It may last until November and explosive activity has increased in recent hours

ARA
3 min
Some girls watching the lava from the volcano on the island of La Palma.

BarcelonaThe lava from the Cumbre Vieja volcano, on the island of La Palma, continues to open up towards the sea little by little and has already covered 153 hectares, which have been swallowed up by rocks, fire and ash. This is the calculation made by the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute (Involcan) based on satellite images captured by the Copernicus programme: the latest map shows the extent of the lava at 8.14 am on Tuesday. Compared to the previous one, at 7.50 p.m. on Monday, the area covered by the eruption has increased from 103 to 153 hectares, about 50%.

Scientists predict that the phenomenon could last almost two months, because the volcano could expel lava until November. In this scenario it is becoming increasingly difficult for the 5,700 people who have had to leave their homes in a hurry, some of whom have been left homeless. So far the lava has destroyed 185 properties, 65 of which were homes. The latest village to be affected is Todoque, a small town of about 1,200 inhabitants where firefighters have tried tonight to divert the lava, but the authorities have already said that "it is impossible" to do so.

The firefighters wanted to channel the lava flow to save the village of Todoque. The strategy was to cool the sides of the lava flow so that movement would contrate in the centre, and try to guide it towards a ravine near the church. As the lava is advancing more and more slowly, and this has also allowed the villagers to collect their belongings up until this evening. Nevertheless, the president of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres, explained that the lava, despite having "slowed down" to 12 metres per hour, continues "its inexorable path". Torres wanted to say that "it is impossible, no matter how much good will", to stop the lava with barricades and warned that trying to do so "can be a risk for people". The tongue of lava is already advancing through the streets of Todoque and is swallowing everything in its path.

Evacuees collecting their belongings before the lava reaches their homes
Firefighters attempted to guide the lava away from Todoque
The eruption could last until November

Uncertainty over whether it will reach the sea

The technical director of the emergency plan for volcanic risk (Pevolca), Miguel Ángel Marcuende, explained that the lava will continue to advance "but there is no certainty as to whether it will reach the sea". According to Marcuende, scientists have no clarity on how far it can move, because it getting slower and slower as it fills holes in the ground. The fact is that, despite this slower pace, last night the activity of the volcano increased with several explosive episodes. The volcano has nine vents, four of which are active, from a single fissure, although at first there had been talk of two different fissures. Marcuende has warned that there may be new explosive episodes.

Despite this, the deformation in the area of the eruption has not got any bigger: it remains at 28 centimetres. According to Marcuende, the phenomenon is in momentarily stable, but it is not known "how long it will last". That is why scientists are working to find out how long it will take for it to stop erupting. As for sulfur dioxide emissions, he said that "there is no danger to human health," although he has urged people not to approach the area of the eruption because the gas can affect eyes and lungs.

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