By Bart Biesemans and Silvio Castellanos
LA PALMA, Spain – More than three thousand residents of La Palma were told on Tuesday they can leave their homes after authorities ended a lockdown caused by a thick cloud of smoke from a volcano that has devastated the Spanish Canary island.
A stream of red-hot lava gushing from the Cumbre Vieja volcano engulfed a cement plant on Monday, raising clouds of smoke and prompting authorities to order people in the area stay at home.
Emergency services instructed residents in the towns of El Paso and Los Llanos de Aridane to remain indoors, shut their windows and turn off air conditioning units to avoid inhaling toxic fumes from the burning cement plant as it was being gradually swallowed by the lava.
On Tuesday, authorities said the smoke cloud had passed and the air quality had improved so 3,500 residents could leave their homes.
There were 18 seismic movements on Tuesday, the strongest measuring 3.8, according to the Spanish National Geological Institute.
Lava from the eruption that began on Sept. 19 has laid waste to a total area of nearly 600 hectares, said Miguel Angel Morcuende, technical director of the Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan.
After the volcano’s cone partially collapsed on Saturday, a new river of lava streamed towards the sea, devouring banana and avocado plantations and most of the remaining houses in the town of Todoque.
Torrents of molten rock have destroyed 1,186 buildings in the three weeks since the eruption, the Canary Islands Volcanic Institute said.
About 6,000 people have been evacuated from their homes on La Palma, which has about 83,000 inhabitants.