The volcanoes on Spain’s Canary Islands have been dormant for nearly half a century until an unexpected eruption on the afternoon of September 19 at 3:30 p.m. local time, rocked the small island of La Palma as Cumbre Vieja gave birth to a colossal amount of lava spewing from four unforgiving fissures.
This seismic activity reported at an alarming magnitude of 4.2 on the Richter scale, occurred off the Northwest Coast of Africa just west of Morocco, showing no mercy to the island’s natives in what was once known as a popular tourist destination, currently covered in molten lava forcing health officials to take precautions against the toxic volcanic ash that now pollutes the air.
This said, as of September 20, around 7,000 residents were forced to evacuate their homes and nearly 180 buildings have been destroyed as the magma has successfully traversed a startling 254 acres.
Although officials are seeking to communicate the severity of the event, many are still skeptical of the damage that has been reported.
Tourism Chief, Raul Camacho, is adamant in continuing to encourage tourists to travel to the island as the local economy begins to fall into deep ruin.
“It is a safe island where there is life, where pupils go to school, where the baker keeps delivering bread every day. Life is normal in the other 90% of the island,” Camacho said.
However, the lava continues to forge its way towards the Atlantic Ocean tearing down communities such as Todoque Village while posing a danger to island life.
Mayor Juan Miguel Rodriguez Acosta of Tazacorte, expressed his concern for the countless families that have nothing to salvage once they return home after numerous evacuations.
“All citizens within 2 km have been relocated for the time being. Yet when they are released out of the shelters, their children’s toys are gone, their household pictures are tarnished and their family heirlooms are nowhere to be found,” Mayor Acosta said.
Nevertheless, the lava has now extended the island by 74 acres, amidst recent reports which reveal speculations that the eruption could cause a tsunami that will be felt by the United States targeting Texas, Louisiana, Florida and New York.
Not only is the tourism economy suffering during this time but local agriculture pertaining to the few surviving banana plantations have local farmers scrambling to preserve their irrigation systems as the lava destroys the crops and wreaks havoc to the water pipes.
That said, the President of the Local Association of Farmers in La Palma, Miguel Martin, expressed his fears surrounding the tendency that many supermarkets in the area are adapting by turning away 100% of the yield that is not tampered by the lava but is assumed to be affected by the ash clouds when in contact with the produce.
“It is a true shame that 38% of the bananas in the Canary Islands come from La Palma, and right now more than 1,200 hectares of cultivated land has been affected by the eruption. Last year, the average price of the Canarian banana was around 90 cents per kilo and the consumer cost was $2.50. Now, there are approximately one million kilos of bananas per week that are not making it to the market,” Martin said.
Given the gravity of the situation, Alexis Schwartz, a volcanologist with GeoTenerife warns that once the molten lava encounters the water, it will create a thermal shock, therefore, releasing clouds of toxic gas prompting acid rain as it reaches the sea at a whopping 3000 degrees Celsius.
As for the earthquakes, this is nothing new to the island residents.
“Since 2017, the island of La Palma has endured over 1,200 earthquakes, along with 1,200 additional tremors,” Schwartz said.
The regional government now declaring a state of emergency as the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute, Involcan, reported on Tuesday, October 5 that the activity of the volcano has escalated to emmitting a minimum of 250,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and about 35 million cubic meters of magma.
Nonetheless, this catastrophic event has created a lot of publicity in the media as avid active volcano hunter, Eva Kubelkova, booked tickets on the next flight to the remote island the day before the volcano was predicted to erupt once news of its activity was announced.
“I knew that the eruption may happen, so on Saturday September 18, I was at home in Azores Island and as I was looking at the data, when I noticed the yellow semaphore alert for this La Palma volcano, which is an anomaly for an eruption. This one was special, something different,” Kubelkova said. As for now, many are hoping that this nightmare will soon cease so that their families may begin to pick up the pieces that the eruption left in its wake and in the meantime praying that their slice of oasis will return to its Moana-like beauty once again.