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La Palma volcano: Lava progress slows but eruption far from over

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By Euronews with AP, AFP
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A police officer orders journalists to leave the area during a media tour near the volcano on the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain, Sept. 22, 2021.
A police officer orders journalists to leave the area during a media tour near the volcano on the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain, Sept. 22, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
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The advance of molten rock from the volcanic eruption on La Palma in the Spanish Canary Islands has slowed significantly with one of the two lava rivers grinding to a halt.

The Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on Sunday and lava now covers 166 hectares. It has also swallowed up around 350 homes.

Authorities announced on Thursday evening that one of the two lava rivers has stopped advancing.

The other one, 600 metres in width, has meanwhile slowed significantly since reaching a plain on Wednesday, advancing at a rate of 4 metres per hour down from 700 metres per hours previously.

Lava is now not expected to reach the ocean before the weekend, María José Blanco, the head of the National Geographic Institute in the Canary Islands, told reporters. Some scientists believe it might never reach the sea.

Authorities fear the arrival of lava in the sea because of the emission of toxic gases that it could cause.

Blanco said seismic activity on La Palma island was now “low” but molten rock is still being thrown out of the volcano - 26 million cubic metres so far.

The volcano "remains active, with a column (of ash and gas) reaching 4,500 metres above sea level," she said.

Stavros Meletlidis, a volcanologist at Spain’s National Geographic Institute, said the dynamics of any eruption were in constant flux.

As it slowed, the lava grew thicker. In places, it rose up to 15 meters (50 feet) high, authorities said.

The uncertainty left many residents on the western side of the island of 85,000 people in limbo.

Scientists say the lava flows could last for weeks or months.

No deaths or injuries were reported as a result of the eruption but more than 6,000 people had to be evacuated.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited the island on Thursday alongside King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, and promised residents that "there will be no shortage of aid".