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White turns black: volcanic ash darkens salt flats on Spain's La Palma

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By Reuters
White turns black: volcanic ash darkens salt flats on Spain's La Palma
White turns black: volcanic ash darkens salt flats on Spain's La Palma   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Silvio Castellanos and Juan Medina

LA PALMA, Spain – A blanket of volcanic ash has turned Andres Hernandez’s pristine white salt flats black, ruining about a third of his annual production in the past two weeks since the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on the Spanish island of La Palma.

The Hernandez family is used to living under the threat of volcanoes – in La Palma’s last eruption 50 years ago, lava stopped just 200 metres short of his family’s saltworks, putting them out of business for two years.

Now, Hernandez, a third-generation salt flat owner, is resolved to cleaning up and carrying on making salt.

“It will take lots of work but we will be able to recover this area,” he told Reuters, adding that many islanders were far less lucky as they had lost their homes and livelihoods.

The volcano, 18 km (11 miles) from the saltworks in Fuencaliente, has been blasting out jets of lava and ash since Sept. 19, destroying hundreds of buildings and farms and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.

But the economic damage has yet to be properly evaluated.

“When the ash fell we were about to collect the salt, but it completely covered everything creating a crust on top and we cannot separate the salt from the ash. It has completely penetrated the grain. It’s impossible to separate,” Hernandez said, adding that up to 200 tonnes of salt had been ruined.

The eruption has also deterred visitors to the saltworks, which are also one of the island’s tourist attractions.

“As owners of this place who live here we feel very sad to see the salt flats in this condition. It looks abandoned, with no activity,” Hernandez said.

But the salt flats will survive.

“Our experience with volcanoes goes (back) a long way, many generations,” he said.