APOCALYPTIC: Increasing destruction on land with 320 homes already burned up and the bill topping £340million
La Palma’s erupting volcano has entered a ‘new explosive phase’ with more ash and smoke being thrown into the air amid warnings that the lava flow might never reach the sea – increasing its destructive force on land.
Volcanologists on the Spanish island said there is more ‘explosive activity’ around the crater today, blanketing nearby neighbourhoods with ash, which comes after the force of the eruption reached unprecedented heights overnight – with chunks of lava being thrown up to 1,300 ft in the air.
Seismic activity also increased overnight, the National Geographic Institute said, with strong tremors detected that caused part of the crater to collapse, along with a 30cm bulge in the island’s surface that typically indicates molten rock building up underground.
Meanwhile scientists monitoring the lava flow on land warned it might never reach the sea – having previously forecast it to do so on Tuesday – and may instead pool on land, destroying more homes and farmland.
Some 320 buildings and 370 acres have already been swallowed up by the lava, with officials warning 1,000 homes and 1,000 acres are still at risk. Angel Víctor Torres, the president of La Palma island, warned the final bill for damages is likely to exceed £340million.
The warning came after a dramatic slow-down in the speed of the lava as it piles up and overflows natural channels, meaning it is spreading out like a pancake instead of flowing to the coast.
Piles of lava are now accumulating up to 40ft tall, observers said, compared to just 20ft two days ago. The increased height also adds to the lava’s destructive power, because it can easily overwhelm even tall buildings.
Raúl Pérez, of the Geological Mining Institute of Spain, explained to El Pais: ‘It is possible that it reaches the sea if there is enough emission, but the lava flows have been cooling for two days. It might or might not.’
José Mangas, professor of geology at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, compared the built-up lava to a ‘steamroller’ saying it will leave ‘scars on the territory, which can last for thousands and even millions of years.’
In an effort to help the lava towards the ocean and away from houses, firefighters dug artificial channels and piled earth up around the lava flow overnight.
‘We do not know if it will work,’ the firefighters wrote in a Facebook post. ‘But we have to try.’
The lava stream is also threatening vast areas of farmland that crews can do little to save, with La Vanguardia reporting that some 1,000 acres could be destroyed by the time the eruption finishes – which volcanologists say may not happen for several weeks, if not months.
The region that has been hit by the eruption is sparsely populated, but is covered with crop-land including some of La Palma’s largest banana plantations.
Bananas are the island’s largest export with a fifth of the total supply now under direct threat. Even trees that are not burned up are likely to become unproductive because they cannot be watered or accessed to harvest.
Domingo Martín, head of the La Palma banana grower’s association, described the situation as ‘a tragedy’ – while the head of the local chamber of commerce said it will spark an ‘economic debacle’.