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Lava from the La Palma volcano engulfs more than a hundred houses

The lava flow on its destructive path to the sea.
The lava flow on its destructive path to the sea. / AGENCY
  • No one knows for sure how long it will remain active. "It could be weeks or a few months"

"Our future is in the hands of the lava." Romina Motta runs the Guirre kiosk, next to the beach where last night (Monday) the lava flow that had been spewing from the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma seemed to delay its long-awaited meeting with the Atlantic Ocean.

"I don't know what will become of us," she says in shock as another 40 houses are evacuated in neighbouring Tazacorte.

The volcanic eruption has drawn a veil of uncertainty over the ‘Isla Bonita’, where 6,000 people have already been evacuated from their homes in the face of the slow but unstoppable advance of the lava, which takes away houses, roads and banana plantations in its path.

While many displaced foreigners decided to return to their homelands by plane or by boat, many residents found their own accommodation with relatives. Up to 250 people are staying in El Fuerte, the old barracks of Santa Cruz de la Palma where members of the Canary Health Service, Red Cross and Guardia Civil officers tried to contain the despair of those who are in the throes of losing everything or have already received the news.

Explosions and harmful gases

The wave of destruction from the lava flows, with a height that varies between six and twelve metres depending on the area, had slowed its pace at dusk - its speed did not exceed 300 metres per hour compared to the more than 700 recorded 24 hours ago. That is why several expert volcanologists agreed that the still burning magma would not reach the sea - causing explosions and expelling harmful gases - until at least the early hours of this Tuesday (21 September), without even ruling out that could be later in the day.

Nemesio Pérez, director of the Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands, pointed out that there is a larger magma chamber located below the one that feeds the eruption, between 20 and 30 kilometres deep, which "could make the eruption period lengthen."

How long will it last?

Because now the question on everyone's lips is how long this episode will last. And nobody knows for sure. "Several weeks, a few months," said the volcanologist, who, on Monday, joined Spain’s PM Pedro Sánchez, the Canary Islands government and the Island Council in calling for calm while an urgent decree law was announced to help the victims.

"Right now the most important thing is to ensure safety", because "the volcano continues to act," warned Sánchez, who forecast that there could be "very long days" ahead.