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5,000 People Evacuated As Lava From La Palma Volcano Eruption Destroys Homes

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Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockSep 20 2021, 12:34 UTC
La Palma.

Volcanologists keep a close eye on the eruption on Sunday September 19 2021. Image courtesy of INVOLCAN

A furiously spurting volcano on La Palma, Canary Islands, has led to mass evacuations of thousands of people and the destruction of dozens of buildings. 

The Cumbre Vieja ("Old Summit") volcano began oozing lava just after 3 pm on September 19 in the sparsely populated Cabeza de Vaca area, Spanish newspaper El País reports. Within just a few hours, the situation soured as the volcano’s eruption started to threaten multiple municipalities that are home to around 35,000 people. By 5 pm, authorities raised the emergency level to red as the Civil Guard evacuated some 5,000 people from their homes.  

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It’s the first time Cumbre Vieja has erupted since 1971 and, notwithstanding the destruction it's caused, it’s been a spectacular eruption, shooting molten rock hundreds of meters in the air, creating enormous plumes of smoke, and forging vast rivers of lava.

"The most amazing thing which I've never experienced is that the noise coming from the volcano, it sounds like... twenty fighter jets taking off and it's extremely loud, it's amazing," remarked Jonas Perez, a local tour guide, according to BBC News.

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There have been no reported injuries or deaths so far, but the lava has possibly destroyed up to 100 homes in El Paso, according to El Pais. The Mayor, Sergio Rodriguez, confirmed at least 20 homes had been buried in one village. Despite this clearly fraught situation, officials have told residents to avoid traveling to the volcano to gawk at the eruption. 

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“People shouldn’t come near the eruption site where the lava is flowing,” said Mariano Hernández, the president of La Palma’s council, per the Associated Press. “We’re having serious problems with the evacuation because the roads are jammed with people who are trying to get close enough to see it.”

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The situation is so severe that Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez canceled his trip to the US in order to travel to La Palma and oversee operations.

Locals have been on high alert about their resident volcano following an unusual bout of seismic activity in the area. Last Thursday, around 4,000 tremors were reported in the Cumbre Vieja national park in the south of La Palma, forcing authorities to raise the emergency level to yellow alert, Reuters reports.

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The volcanic activity could last “several weeks or a few months,” according to Nemesio Pérez, director of the Canaries’ Volcanology Institute, El Pais reports. However, he added that the eruption's duration will depend on the amount of magma that's accumulated in the volcano’s “reservoir." To keep tabs on the eruption, they will be closely measuring its emissions of sulfur dioxide. Once two days have passed without any emissions, they can then confidently declare the eruption is over. How exactly this volcanic display will pan out, however, remains to be seen.

 

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