Scientists continue to monitor the air quality in the area of the eruption and where the lava flows into the ocean. / EFE

La Palma volcano enters a new phase as lava flows to the sea through 'tunnels'

Now in its eighteenth day of eruption, the Canary Islands Government is considering the construction of prefabricated houses in the areas most affected by the volcano

ANTONIO PANIAGUA

Scientists studying the behaviour of the La Palma volcano have said that it has entered a phase of stability, although it does not mean that they expect eruptions to subside any time soon.

The volcanic eruption is already in its eighteenth day, during which time it has spewed out more than 80 million cubic metres of red-hot material.

However, specialists have revealed that the damage it has wreaked on land has not spread much wider as the lava is now flowing to the sea through ducts, that were formed in the lower levels of the magma mass as it moved towards the ocean. The Canary Islands are full of these tunnels. An example of a volcanic tube is the one at Cueva del Viento, in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, one of the five longest in the world and a major tourist attraction.

The technical director of the Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan (Pevolca), Miguel Ángel Morcuende, said that this latest stability phase is encouraging, since the lava is not colonising new areas.

Earthquakes

There has also been a fall in both number and intensity of earthquakes. Of the last dozen tremors detected, only six were felt by the population. The largest measured.

However, this good news was somewhat tempered with the change in the wind direction and some planes that were scheduled to land at the island's airport on Wednesday had to be diverted to Tenerife due to the proximity of an ash cloud.

Hydrochloric acid

The concentrations of particles in the ash cloud has not been a health hazard yet, according to the Canary Islands director of the National Geographic Institute (IGN), María José Blanco. But technicians will continue to analyse the readings, along with those for the presence of hydrochloric acid in the plume that now rises over the site where the molten lava enters the sea.

Farmers are taking the brunt of the damage from the eruption. The lava has already devoured 93.4 hectares of crops, mainly in the Aridane Valley and the rest in El Paso. Two portable desalination plants that have arrived on the island and which will supply irrigation water for crops will start operating within nine days, according to the most optimistic forecasts.

Holiday reservations

The Canary Islands Government is considering the construction of prefabricated houses in the most affected municipalities: Los Llanos de Aridane, El Paso and Tazacorte. These houses, which would take 18 or 20 to build, will be in addition to other accomodation measures for displaced families – including the purchase of apartments.

Hoteliers have warned of a drop of over 70 per cent in holiday reservations on the island. Now their great concern is to save the winter season.