The Cumbre Vieja volcano, on La Palma, seen from Los llanos de Aridane.  / MIGUEL CALERO / EFE

La Palma volcano eruption smashes island record, and still there is no end in sight

The eruption has now entered its 86th day and the earthquakes and the emission of lava and toxic gases continues


The Cumbre Vieja volcano, on the Canary Island of La Palma, has broken the record for the longest eruption on the island after spewing lava for more than 85 days.

Since it launched its first tongue of fire on 19 September, the erupting volcano has generated more than 120 million cubic metres of molten magma that has spilled into the ocean and, at exactly 3.13 pm on Sunday (12 December), it exceeded the eruption of the Tehuya volcano, which happened in 1585.

The lava now covers some 1,223.5 hectares and, according to latest data from the Copernicus satellite programme, has destroyed 2,896 buildings and nearly 400 hectares of crops.

Although there are signs of the volcanic intensity diminishing, in the last four days the lava has covered another 11 hectares of land, although most of the molten magma slides down volcanic tubes created by earlier lava flows. In total, during the last three months, the volcano has created a dozen lava streams, up to 3,350 metres wide, some reaching the sea, creating a 48.3-hectare lava delta. 

Unlike what happened recently in Indonesia, where 45 people lost their lives due to the eruption of the Semeru volcano, in the Canary Islands there have been no direct deaths from the eruption. This has been mainly due to the safe evacuation of more than 7,000 inhabitants from the affected areas. However, one man died on La Palma after the roof of his house collapsed on him, believed to be due to the weight of the volcanic ash.

The Pevolca programme's technical director Miguel Ángel Morcuende has recently hinted that some of those displaced from the northern part of Cumbre Vieja could soon return to their homes. However, in the south, toxic gasses from the lava flows still affect the area with high concentrations of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2), according to Pevolca.

On a more positive note the seismic activity of the volcano appears to be diminishing with just 15 earthquakes, all of a low intensity, recorded on Saturday - far from the peak of 330 earthquakes in a single day.