By Miguel Pereira and Marco Trujillo
LA PALMA, Spain -Spain classified La Palma as a disaster zone on Tuesday, a move that will trigger financial support for the island where a volcanic eruption has wrecked buildings and destroyed crops over the past nine days.
The government announced a first package of 10.5 million euros ($12.30 million), which includes around 5 million euros to buy houses, with the rest to acquire furniture and essential household goods, government spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez said.
Lava has been flowing down the volcano’s western flank toward the sea since Sept. 19, destroying almost 600 houses and banana plantations in La Palma, which neighbours Tenerife in the Canary Islands archipelago off the North African coast.
Thousands have been evacuated and three coastal villages were locked down on Monday in anticipation of lava meeting the Atlantic Ocean and releasing toxic gases.
But authorities cannot determine if and when the molten rock will reach the sea or how long the eruption will continue. For several hours on Monday, the eruption slowed to a near halt before roaring back into life in the evening.
“We are still waiting on whatever the volcano wants to do,” said Miguel Angel Morcuende, director of the Pevolca response committee. “When the lava reaches the sea, the lockdown must be strictly observed.”
However, bathers on Tazacorte beach, a few kilometres away from the likely impact zone, remained calm.
“I’m not afraid. The beach is relaxing,” Maria Lourdes, who lived through La Palma’s last big eruption in 1971, told Reuters as a few bathers and families with young children strolled along the black sands.
Further inland, one resident who was evacuated last week from the village of Tacande de Arriba was delighted to find his house still standing and his pet cats unscathed.
“It’s a good feeling, a fantastic feeling,” said Gert Waegerle, 75, who fled the advancing lava with his five turtles on Friday but had to leave the cats behind.
“I am super happy because in the end, everything turned out fine.”
($1 = 0.85 euros)