La Palma volcano eruption officially over

The eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano in La Palma is officially over, Spanish authorities said on Saturday.

It took a little over three months for the Cumbre Vieja volcano to fall back to sleep: the eruption on the Spanish island of La Palma, which caused considerable damage, officially ended on Saturday.

« Today the scientific committee can say it (…) the eruption is over, » announced Julio Pérez, the director of the Canary Islands volcanic emergency plan (Pevolca) at a press conference on Saturday. « There is no lava, no significant gas emission, no significant earthquakes, » said the official, recalling that this eruption lasted « 85 days and 18 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 confirm that the episode was over, while the end of the eruption has been felt several times over the past three months, before resuming in each time a few days later, much to the dismay of the inhabitants of the island.

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. The 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 of volcanic origin.

No death

However, it was the longest eruption that the island has known: started on September 19, it was the first for 50 years, after those of the San Juan volcano in 1949 and the Teneguia in 1971. Despite its duration and the impressive images of the molten lava flows, it caused no deaths, 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.

Lava covered 1,250 hectares of the island’s surface area and even made it … larger: the flows that reached the sea solidified and gave rise to two peninsulas, adding to the island’s surface area 44 ha for one and 5 ha 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 hum. 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, sometimes coming back 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.

Rebuild or leave

Three months of paralysis, with regular air traffic interruptions and the closure of La Palma airport, on this small island heavily dependent on tourism. The lava has also done a lot of harm to the banana plantations, the other key sector of the local economy, since it accounts for 50% of its GDP. Of the 70,000 hectares of the island, 10% are devoted to agriculture, mainly to the cultivation of bananas (43%), according to the foundation World Biosphere Reserve of La Palma.

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

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