Canary Islands: end of the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano

After just over three months of activity, the Cumbre Vieja volcano goes into lethargy: the eruption on the Spanish island of La Palma has officially ended. « Today the scientific committee can say it [que] the eruption is over ”, announced Julio Pérez, the director of the volcanic emergency plan for the Canaries, during a press conference on Saturday 25 December.

« There is no lava, no significant gas emission, no significant earthquakes », listed the manager, recalling that this rash lasted « Eighty-five days and eighteen hours », since September 19. It took ten consecutive days without visible sign of volcanic activity, a time required according to scientific experts, to be able to say that the episode was over, while the end of the eruption has been felt several times in the last three months, before to resume each time a few days later, to the dismay of the inhabitants of the island.

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Dangerous region

Now Cumbre Vieja is in lethargy, its lava torrents are black, frozen, hardened, and a layer of black sand – ash – has settled like a veil over the place. It will take years, if not a decade, to clean up, clear away, rebuild and reclaim this disfigured land.

Experts have already warned that the area will remain dangerous for some time to come due to persistent toxic gas emissions and the fact that the lava will take a long time to cool. Not to mention the risk of land collapse.

Volcanic activity is inscribed in the history of La Palma, which, like the six other islands of the Canary Archipelago – located in the Atlantic Ocean, off the northwest coast of Africa – is from volcanic origin. However, it was the longest eruption the island has known: started on September 19, it was the first for fifty years, after those of the San Juan volcano in 1949 and Teneguia in 1971.

Despite its duration and the impressive images of the molten lava flows, it did not kill anybody, but caused enormous damage: more than 7,000 people were evacuated, of which around 600 still live in hotels, and nearly 3,000 buildings were destroyed.

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Damage estimated at 900 million euros

Lava covered 1,250 hectares of the island’s surface area and even … enlarged it: the flows that reached the sea solidified and gave rise to two peninsulas, adding to the island’s surface area 44 hectares for one and 5 hectares for the other, according to the latest data provided by local authorities. At the height of the episode, the volcano spat out thousands of gallons of lava, producing bubbling, fluorescent flows that rolled down the mountain, all in a constant roar.

The 83,000 inhabitants of La Palma will not forget the earthquakes, nor the ash rains, nor the toxic gases or the smoke escaping from the cone of the volcano which forced them to seal themselves sometimes for several days. The homes had to be evacuated in haste, and sometimes returned to pick up animals and personal effects a few days later. Sunken villas or buildings, roads disappearing under lava flows and spectacular jets of salt water when the lava entered the sea: the activity of the volcano has punctuated Spanish television news for weeks on end.

The damage could exceed 900 million euros, according to local authorities. The Spanish government, whose leader, Pedro Sanchez, has visited the area on multiple occasions, has pledged 225 million euros in aid intended in particular to build housing and buy basic necessities, as well as direct subsidies to farmers and fishermen. Madrid also called on the European Commission to activate the European Union solidarity fund.

Read also In the Canaries, three months after the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano

The World with AFP

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