La Palma Island Volcanic Eruption Sends Lava Flowing to Residential Buildings

An image of a volcano on La Palma Island spewing lava near a village.
Some experts suspect that the lava’s heat at a scorching 1,800 degrees could trigger landslides or explosions and release toxic gases when it reaches the ocean and collides with the ocean water.     Desiree Martin/Getty Images

On September 19, the Cumbre Vieja volcano on Spain’s La Palma Island exploded into a fury of red plumes and smoke that spewed lava 14,000 feet into the air, Renata Brito and Barry Hatton report or the Associated Press.

The volcano’s eruption is the first in 50 years in the Canary archipelago located off the northwestern coast of Africa, Raphael Minder reports for the New York Times. The stream-like lava flow engulfed nearby forests and homes, forcing 5,000 locals and 500 tourists to evacuate, Scott Neuman reports for NPR. The eruption followed a week of seismic activity where more than 22,000 tremors were reported, per Borja Suarez for Reuters.

“When the volcano erupted today, I was scared. For journalists, it is something spectacular, for us, it is a tragedy. I think the lava has reached some relatives’ houses,” Isabel Fuentes, a resident told Spanish television TVE, Reuters reports. “I was five years old when the volcano last erupted (in 1971). You never get over a volcanic eruption.”

La Palma is the smallest of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Just before the eruption, a 3.8 magnitude earthquake shook the island, reports the New York Times. Since the volcano’s eruption, streams of lava from five fissures on the side of the volcano continued to spill out. On the first day following the eruption, lava was moving at a whopping 2,300 feet per hour, reports the Associated Press. One 2,000-foot-wide lava stream finally slowed to 13 feet per hour after reaching a plain on Wednesday, per AP. 

La Palma Island Volcanic Eruption Sends Lava Flowing to Residential Buildings
Since the volcano’s eruption, streams of lava from five fissures on the side of the volcano continued to spill out.

  Europa Press News/Getty Images

By Thursday, September 23, the lava flow’s advancement slowed, along with the seismic activity, but molten rock was still spewing from the volcano, per the Associated Press. Nearly 26 million cubic meters of molten rock have been emitted so far. Some experts suspect that the lava’s heat at a scorching 1,800 degrees could trigger landslides or explosions and release toxic gases when it reaches the ocean and collides with the water, reports Tereza Pultarova for Space.com

“The lava is advancing very slowly because it cools in contact with the atmosphere, through friction with the ground and building materials and, above all, because its front edge is widening out,” explains Starvos Meletlidis, a volcanologist with Spain’s National Geographic Institute, to the Associated Press.

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In some places, as the lava flow slowed and grew thicker, it rose to 50 feet high. In total, the lava has covered 410 acres and destroyed roughly 350 homes. Scientists suspect the flows could last a few weeks or months. Also known as the Old Summit, Cumbre Vieja’s last eruption persisted for three weeks, reports Nicoletta Lanese for Live Science.

Multiple videos of the lava flowing into the nearby village of El Paso have been shared on social media platforms. In some videos, homes were seen engulfed by lava, including one that shows molten rock spilling into a swimming pool. About 400 firefighters and emergency workers have been sent from other islands in the Canary archipelago to assist with any fires caused by the lava flows, reports Al Goodman and Vasco Cotovio for CNN.  

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