Society 20/09/2021

Lava swallows houses and crops on La Palma as it moves towards the sea

It is estimated that a hundred homes have been buried by the eruption

Ara
2 min
A house burned by lava in the residential area of Los Campitos in Los Llanos de Aridane, on the Canary Island of La Palma

BarcelonaSlow but unstoppable, the lava from the volcano that has erupted on the island of La Palma is advancing towards the coast and could reach the sea this afternoon, at around 8 p.m. local time. In its path, the river of lava, about six meters high, "literally swallows" everything in its path, as explained by local officials: a hundred houses have been destroyed and the school of Los Campitos, in the municipality of El Paso, has been buried, as well as infrastructure and crops. The volcano is emitting between 6,000 and 9,000 tons of sulfur dioxide a day. So far, some 5,000 people have had to be evacuated due to the eruption on an island of some 80,000 inhabitants.

The locals look on helplessly. The expectation generated by a natural spectacle of these proportions gives way to the desolation of not being able to do anything in the face of this force of nature, which buries "the work of a lifetime," the inhabitants, who have lost their homes, explain. The president of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres, has pledged to help those affected who have lost homes or crops, as well as to restore the infrastructure destroyed by the eruption, and the president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sanchez, has also assured that they will work to ensure that the local economy "is not damaged" and can "recover everything that has been damaged and lost". In spite of everything, recovering the volcanic soil left by the eruption for agriculture will be "quite a slow process", since it could take more than twenty years to become fertile again, according to Sergio Pérez Ortega, a researcher at the Royal Botanical Garden.

A turning point

Be that as it may, it seems clear that the eruption will mark a turning point in La Palma. The president of the Canary Islands Red Cross, Antonio Rico, has warned that the eruption may cause "a deterioration of coexistence" for people who have had to interrupt their usual activity for an unpredictable period of time. According to Rico, they have "left behind" much of their history and their lives. It is a "real catastrophe", he warned. In a controversial statement, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Reyes Maroto, has defended instead that the eruption can become a tourist "attraction".

The question now is how the sea will react when the lava arrives. The Canary Islands special emergency plan for volcanic risk (Pevolca) will intensify its operation, because it is expected to generate explosions and emissions of noxious gases. The authorities have established a security perimeter at sea and access by land will also be prevented. University of Las Palmas Geology professor José Mangas has warned the rivers of lava can create acid rain when they reach the sea. In contrast, the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet) believes it is "unlikely at this time" that acid rain will occur in populated areas as a result of toxic gases coming out of the volcanic eruption, although it is a hypothesis that cannot be ruled out.

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