Explosive Volcanic Eruptions Uproot Thousands on La Palma

LA PALMA, Spain, September 25, 2021 (ENS) – A volcanic eruption on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma visible from space has destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of people to evacuate. The last major eruption in the Cumbre Vieja volcano chain was 50 years ago in 1971.

The eruption began on Sunday, September 19 from fissures on the western flanks of Cumbre Vieja, an elongated volcanic range spanning the southern two-thirds of La Palma. Observers reported an initial explosion that day that spewed ash and gas thousands of feet into the air.

Inhabited by about 85,000 people, La Palma is one of the youngest of the Canary Islands, a volcanic archipelago located in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of the African country of Morocco.

The eruption of Cumbre Vieja can be seen from space. “While 50 years is a relatively long time for humans, it’s a geological moment in terms of this very active volcano,” said William Stefanov, a remote sensing scientist for the International Space Station science office.

Pumping lava fountains have been feeding lava streams flowing down the mountain slopes, consuming all trees, banana plantations, homes, and infrastructure in their paths.

Some 6,100 people wer forced to flee the area this week, and more evacuations were ordered on Friday as powerful explosions and new openings were reported at the volcano, where a cloud of thick, black ash rises into the air.

No fatalities have been reported; the prompt evacuations are credited with helping avoid casualties.

Lava flows threaten neighborhoods in the towns of El Paso, Los Llanos de Aridan, and Tazacorte. Falling ash and sulfur dioxide emissions have blanketed nearby communities, too. Authorities are evacuating the infirm and farm animals from the entire area.

Explosions have increased during the past few hours, generating powerful shock waves that reportedly can break glass up to three km (two miles) distant.

The airport on La Palma has been closed. Planes were grounded Friday and remain grounded today due to the ongoing volcanic eruptions. These are the first flights to be canceled since the Cumbre Vieja volcano burst its cone this week.

Experts are hoping the lava flow will not reach the coast. They worry that if the molten lava reaches the sea, it will generate clouds of toxic gas that will rise into the air and will also poison the marine environment.

Spanish Leaders Vow to Protect and Compensate La Palma

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez postponed his attendance at the United Nations General Assembly in New York and traveled to the island of La Palma to see first-hand the damage and the activities of first responders.

The president emphasised that all central and regional governments and the City Hall have collaborated throughout the week to anticipate the eruption and inform the public on how to act when the time comes.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visits with residents of La Palma who were forced to evacuate their homes to escape the volcanic eruptions. September 23, 2021 (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)

Prime Minister Sanchez has pledged the support of the Government of Spain “so that all the material losses can be replaced as soon as possible” and said that the citizens of La Palma “have to be reassured,” that all instruments are being used to guarantee their safety.

Sanchez confirmed that the Council of Ministers has taken “the first steps to activate the procedure to declare a Civil Protection emergency zone by the Government of Spain.”

“These are going to be long weeks in which we will have to work together with all the institutions to be able to assess the damage,” Sanchez said.

After speaking Wednesday in New York at the United Nations General Assembly, meeting with Secretary-General, Ántonio Guterres, and with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and participating in various forums, Prime Minister Sánchez traveled back to La Palma to accompany the King and Queen on their visit to the stricken island.

King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia began their visit at the temporary accommodation facilities of the El Fuerte barracks, where people evacuated from their homes are being housed.

Sanchez listened to their personal circumstances and concerns following the event and greeted the members of the security forces and services participating in the emergency and evacuation operation.

The King, Queen and Prime Minister attended the daily meeting of the Steering Committee of the Special Civil Protection and Emergency Plan for Volcanic Risk, PEVOLCA, where they were briefed on the evolution of the eruption, the damage caused so far and the measures being taken to mitigate the effects of the lava.

King Felipe said he believes the Island of La Palma will recover from this natural disaster. Speaking after a tour of the disaster area, King Felipe said he had been deeply moved by the struggle islanders face. The King expressed his “solidarity and affection” to the inhabitants of “this ‘beautiful island'”.

“We have to do everything in our power to help these families,” he said.

During the visit to La Palma, Prime Minister Sanchez announced a package of measures to help “rebuild lives.”

The Spanish government will provide aid for rebuilding homes and public infrastructure, such as roads, irrigation networks and schools, and will relaunch the island’s tourism industry, Sanchez said. He did not give an amount of the relief funding, but said a Cabinet meeting next week would offer more details.

Help is Here, Now

The World Central Kitchen Relief Team is on the ground providing meals to communities affected and first responders working around the clock. Leading operations in La Palma are firefighter Alvaro and local Chef Serafin Romero.

Founded by Chef Jose Andres in 2010 to feed hungry people where they are, the WCK is serving both lunch and dinner on La Palma. For first responders working the night shift, Chef Serafin prepared a dinner of Garbanzada a lo Canario, a traditional garbanzo stew from the Canary Islands with pork and vegetables. WCK’s Relief Team partnered with Correos, Spain’s postal service, to help deliver the meal of garbanzo stew to families impacted by the volcano.

The Spanish Red Cross has been supporting the people of La Palma to provide shelters, logistics, emergency health care, psychosocial care and search and rescue.

The Red Cross is working with the Canary Islands Emergency Service to transfer the evacuated inhabitants from the communities of El Paso, and Los Llanos de Aridane to two established meeting points, where they can contact family and friends.

Featured image: Glowing lava flows from the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma, an island in the Canary Islands chain. September 23, 2021 (Image courtesy TV Canarias)

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