EL PASO – The volcanic eruption on the Canary Island of La Palma on Sunday afternoon has serious consequences for the islanders and visitors. The lava flow has meant 5,000 people have been evacuated and already 100 homes and a school have been destroyed.
That lava flow has a height of six metres and so far emits between 6,000-9,000 tons of sulfur dioxide. Furthermore, it also has a speed of up to 700 meters per hour. Everything in its path is destroyed. So far, however, no personal accidents have been recorded, island government president Mariano Hernández Zapata has confirmed. “But the lava literally eats all the homes, infrastructures, and crops it encounters on its way to the coast of Valle Aridane.” At the current rate, it is expected to reach the sea on Monday at twilight.
Everything in its path is destroyed
More than 5,000 people have now been evacuated and 100 homes have been completely or partially destroyed. A school was also completely engulfed by the thick layer of hot lava.
The technical director of Pevolca, Miguel Ángel Morcuende explains in the newspaper 20Minutos that the volcano erupted through two cracks 200 metres apart. But now has nine mouths from which lava flows.
Prime Minister Sanchez on location
The Spanish Prime Minister visited the site of the eruption on Monday and expressed his condolences to all involved. He also promised ‘his total and absolute commitment’ to the reconstruction and recovery. “This outbreak is not going to cause people to stay behind, even if irreparable damage has occurred. Such as the loss of homes with all the emotional charge that comes with it,” Sanchez said. The prime minister stressed that the most important thing at the moment is to ensure the safety of everyone.
Volcano ash cloud reaches 3,000 metres
Meanwhile, the ash cloud from the volcanic eruption has reached a height of 3,000 metres. Therefore, the aviation warning system had to be activated. According to meteorologist Francisco Martín from Meteored, the meteorological situation on La Palma is favourable for the population. “The trade winds from the northeast carry the ash cloud south and luckily it doesn’t rain, so the ash doesn’t end up on land.”
The dangers of the volcanic eruption
However, it is not only the lava that causes danger on the island. The evolution in the last hours of the magma reserves in the crust and of the lava circulating on the surface also brings unknown factors and risks. These include the release of toxic gases, ash clouds, pollution of groundwater, and explosions in the sea.
An eruption with no end in sight
Experts had calculated that the Cumbre Vieja’s magma stock is about 11 million cubic metres. Now that volume of lava in the crust is being recalculated upwards “because of the way it was released, because of the deformation of the soil, and because of how it evolves,” explains IGN seismologist, Eduardo Suárez. However, no one dares to predict how long magma will flow out of the volcano. “We can’t say how long it will last or when it will stop.”
Carmen López, director of the Central Geophysical Observatory of the National Geographic Institute says in El País: “The eruption on La Palma has enough material, intensity, and magma to last for weeks” and adds that it is still too early to predict how long the lava ejection will last.
Up to 9,000 tons of gas per day
Experts warn of the danger of the gases coming from the volcano La Palma. They also, emphasise that under no circumstances should people approach the lava flows. Even for nice pictures. “You have to be careful because, in the previous eruption on La Palma, two people died after inhaling toxic gases.”
The gases emitted are Co2, sulfur, water vapor, and hydrogen sulfide. It is estimated that between 6,000 and 9,000 tons of gases are emitted per day. The president of the Canary Islands himself, Ángel Víctor Torres, pointed out on Monday that the volcano has emitted more than 20,000 tons of sulfur dioxide.
The National Geographic Institute warns of contamination of the groundwater in the area by gases emanating from the volcano. And will, therefore, render the drinking water reserves unusable. Furthermore, it warns of the fall of ash more than two kilometres from the area of the burst.
Explosions in the sea
However, the biggest problem, according to experts, is the steep topography of the island. As such, this could allow the lava to reach the sea. “If this happens, explosions could follow because of the high temperature of the lava (1075 degrees Celsius) when it comes into contact with the sea. The temperature at which water boils is 100 degrees, so with a tenfold heat it becomes explosive,” warns Suárez. In addition to explosiveness, another important risk is the emission of gases, both water vapor and gases with chlorine. Finally, there is still the risk of forest fires. But the island government has already deployed all possible means that are assisted by the army.