La Palma volcano: 'Many people are losing everything they have'

Lava spews from the volcano on Sunday night.
Lava spews from the volcano on Sunday night. / EFE
  • More than 5,000 residents have already been evacuated from their homes as the volcano spews lava and incandescent rocks from at least seven 'mouths'

It was only a few minutes after three on Sunday afternoon (19 September) when the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on La Palma in Spain's Canary Islands.

It was an event that has changed the lives of thousands of islanders residing in the southern area of what is known as the 'isla bonita’ – the pretty island.

Although the evacuation plan was underway after several days in which up to 6,600 small earthquakes had been recorded, the residents of Las Manchas had to hastily abandon their homes.

"We heard a roar that at first we thought was another earthquake, but then we saw a column of smoke right and realised there was a high chance that the lava would descend into the house," said Rayco Leal.

After several explosions, the mountain of La Palma began to spit ash, smoke and lava, which first came out two fissures or eruptive mouths in two different places on the mountain that later became seven.

“Just this morning I was hunting in the same area. The ground was shaking a little, first it was a rumbling sound and then it was heard like thunder”, commented Francisco Machí, who was calculating the time he had left to leave his home.

"At the speed of the lava flow, I will have to leave my house in a day or two. This is a catastrophe because many people are losing everything they have," he said.

"I am very afraid, I never thought that I would be evacuated from my house," says Luz María, a resident of El Paraíso, who had to leave her home after spending "all day and all night shaking and waiting for the eruption".

Marta, from Las Manchas, says that the volcano "has erupted near my house, one or two kilometres away" and has been evacuated "with my parents, my partner and my brother” to the football field in El Paso, where she will have to wait for the situation to improve. "We have no other choice," she says.

Sounds like thunder

Another of the residents evacuated as a precautionary measure has told the island media that she feels "sad" because she does not know "what will happen" and if the lava "is going to wash away" her house. "I have not had time to take pick up anything " said the woman, who said that she had "been feeling tremors for days and hearing sounds like thunder."

The volcanic eruption has not caused any personal injuries, but it has already affected "a hundred homes", the president of the Cabildo de La Palma, Mariano Hernández, said in an interview.

The Group for Psychological Intervention in Emergencies and Catastrophes (Gipec) of the Official College of Psychology of Santa Cruz de Tenerife on the island of La Palma has been activated to provide psychological care to people evacuated by the eruption of the volcano.

Different landscape

Prior to this latest volcanic eruption on La Palma, the last previous two were in 1971 and in 1949, when the eruption lasted more than three weeks. Noelia García, the mayor of Los Llanos, one of the areas closest to the volcano, explains that in 1949 the residents of Las Manchas suffered the consequences of the eruption of the San Juan volcano. "There are people living in the area who have already experienced three volcanoes," she says. The councillor says that due to the eruptions during the night, "the landscape is absolutely different" and it is now impossible to recognise where the roads were.

The lava flows on the slopes of the El Paso municipality are advancing at approximately 0.7 kilometres per hour, reports the Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands (Involcan), which has also said that the flows have a temperature of 1,075 degrees, a figure that has been determined by thermal imaging equipment.