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La Palma volcano: Fresh evacuations as farmers deplore 'catastrophic' situation

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
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Lava, spewed from Cumbre Vieja volcano, rolls down a hill as it continues to erupt on the Canary Island of La Palma, as seen from Tacande, Spain
Lava, spewed from Cumbre Vieja volcano, rolls down a hill as it continues to erupt on the Canary Island of La Palma, as seen from Tacande, Spain   -   Copyright  Credit: Reuters

Lava flow from a volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma has hit a cement factory and industrial estate.

Between 700 and 800 residents have been evacuated from Los Llanos de Aridane due to the northwest advance of the lava.

Authorities have been monitoring a stream of molten rock that has set buildings near the cement factory ablaze.

Up to 3,000 residents had been ordered to stay indoors over fresh fears of toxic gases, but the lockdown has now been lifted.

Ángel Morcuende, technical director of the Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan, confirmed on Tuesday that the smoke cloud had passed and residents could leave their homes.

La Cumbre Vieja volcano began erupting on September 19, forcing 6,000 people from their homes on the Spanish Canary Islands.

Over 1,100 buildings have so far been destroyed by lava, as well as nearly 600 hectares of land.

On Saturday, part of the volcano's cone collapsed, sending new rivers of lava pouring down the slopes towards an industrial zone on the west of La Palma.

Flights to the island have resumed after two days on hold because of the volcanic ash clouds.

This is the third volcanic eruption on La Palma, although the last one occurred over fifty years ago in 1971.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez traveled to the island on Wednesday, his fourth visit since the initial eruption.

“Unfortunately, the news we have from the scientific committee is that the volcano’s activity is not decreasing, so a reduction in its activity is not foreseeable in the coming days,” Sánchez said.

“I know it is tough after so many days and nights of suffering, but I ask you to remain patient because we can not do anything until the volcano stops.”

Sánchez’s government has pledged 214 million euros to help rebuild homes, farms, and businesses in the affected area.

'The situation is catastrophic'

The eruption is also severely impacting one of the island's main exports: bananas.

"There has been a 50 to 60 percent drop" in banana arrivals since the eruption began, Enrique Rodriguez of the Covalle cooperative, where bananas arrive to be packed and shipped, said.

Bananas account for 50% of the island's gross domestic product with 148,000 tonnes produced in 2020, according to the Association of Canary Islands Banana Producers' Organisations (ASPROCAN).

Rodriguez added that the drop in production was due to the fact that "plantations have been washed away by the lava" and that it was "more difficult for the others" to produce because of the consequences of the eruption.

Pedro Antonio Sanchez, a 60-year-old banana grower, described the effect of the volcano eruption on his plantation as "worse than a pest, worse than a disease"

The ash from the volcano is almost impossible to remove from the fruit and damages it when handling, transporting and packing banana bunches weighing up to 70 kilos.

"You have to blow on them, or rinse them, I don't know... And when the dew falls during the night, the ashes are stuck by the water and they don't go away in the morning," he went on, adding: "The situation is truly catastrophic."

Ash is not the only — or biggest — problem.

"The lack of water is the biggest threat," the farmer stressed, due to the lava destroying a major pipeline bringing water to irrigate many plantations in the southwest of the island.

In addition to the rupture of the irrigation pipe, there are restrictions on access to farms close to the lava flows, where farmers are only allowed to water for a short time for safety reasons.

Bananas "need a lot of watering every 7 days. At the moment, we water every 15 days to save water, and even if they don't dry out, the fruit will suffer," Sanchez said.

To help alleviate the lack of water in La Palma, which has no rivers or lakes, two seawater desalination units arrived on Tuesday and a tanker loaded with fresh water is expected to arrive next week.