Volcanic eruption threatens island with poisonous gas and molten lava

EL PASO, Canary Islands – As a new volcanic vent has opened and unstoppable rivers of molten rock poured out to sea, authorities on a Spanish island warned on Tuesday that other dangers await residents, including earthquakes, lava flows, toxic gases, volcanic ash and acid rain.

Several small earthquakes rocked the island of La Palma in the Atlantic Ocean off northwest Africa on Tuesday, keeping nerves sharp after a volcanic eruption on Sunday. The island, which has 85,000 inhabitants, is part of the Canary Islands archipelago, a must-see tourist destination for Europeans.

Authorities said the new crack showed the area to be unstable and dangerous, and put people at least 1.25 miles away.

Rivers of lava, reaching nearly 20 feet in height, tumbled down the hills, burning and crushing everything in their path, as they gradually approached the island’s most densely populated coast. One fell on Todoque, where more than 1,000 people live, and where emergency services were preparing evacuations.

So far, the eruption has destroyed around 190 homes and forced the evacuation of 6,000 people.

“The truth is that it is a tragedy to see people losing their properties, said municipal worker Fernando Díaz from the city of El Paso.

The advance of the lava has slowed to around 400 feet per hour, according to Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan chief Miguel Ángel Morcuende, and is not expected to reach the Atlantic Ocean until Wednesday.

The head of government of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres, said that “when (the lava) hits the sea, it will be a critical moment”.

The meeting of lava, whose temperature exceeds 1,800 F, with a body of water could cause explosions and produce clouds of toxic gases. Torres asked locals to remember the island’s last eruption in 1971, when someone died after inhaling the gas emitted when lava encountered water.

A change in wind direction blew ash from the volcano over a large area on the west side of the island, with black particles covering everything. Volcanic ash is irritating to the eyes and lungs.

The volcano also spat between 8,000 and 10,500 tonnes of sulfur dioxide – which also affects the lungs – every day, the Institute of Volcanology said.

In addition to the dangers, the emergence of new cracks in the lava-spewing earth cannot be ruled out, said Nemesio Pérez, director of the Canary Islands Institute of Volcanology, who noted that there was “significant surface seismic activity in the region “.

The new fissure that appeared Monday night is 3,000 feet north of the Cumbre Vieja ridge, where the volcano erupted on Sunday after a week of thousands of small earthquakes. This swarm of earthquakes warned authorities that an eruption was likely and allowed many people to be evacuated, avoiding casualties.

The new crack opened after what the Canary Islands Institute of Volcanology declared to be a magnitude 3.8 earthquake.

Scientists say the lava flows could last for weeks or months.

Torres described the lava-affected area as a “disaster zone” and said he would ask for money to rebuild roads, water pipes and create temporary housing for families who have lost their homes. as well as their agricultural land.

Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia are due to visit the region on Thursday.


Barry Hatton contributed from Lisbon, Portugal.

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