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Volcanologists can't rule out future reactivation of La Palma volcano

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By Josephine Joly  with AFP
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A fissure is seen next to a house covered with ash on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Dec. 1 2021.
A fissure is seen next to a house covered with ash on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Dec. 1 2021.   -   Copyright  Emilio Morenatti / AP

The eruption of La Palma's Cumbre Vieja volcano, which destroyed hundreds of homes and large swathes of farmland, has finally come to an official end on Saturday.

The announcement followed ten days of low-level activity from the volcano on the tiny Canary Islands isle that lies off Africa's northwest coast — a prerequisite for the officials to deem it inactive.

But despite authorities saying the eruption has come to an end, the volcano will continue to release toxic gases for a long spell, which could pose a threat to the population.

The lava will also take a long time to cool to a safe level.

"The end of the eruption doesn't mean there's no longer any danger," warned Julio Perez, a director of the Canary emergency volcanic response.

"The risks and dangers persist," he added.

No injuries or deaths have been directly linked to the eruption, which began on September 19, but it destroyed 1,345 homes, as well as schools, churches, health centres, and farm irrigation infrastructure.

The slow-moving lava has covered 1,250 hectares of land as it made its way to the Atlantic — much of it banana plantations, the isle's main livelihood along with tourism.

The eruption is the first in La Palma since 1971 and the longest on record on the island of around 83,000 people.

About 7,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, with many given just minutes to pack their belongings.

Volcanologists have also said that they can't rule out a future reactivation of the Cumbre Vieja.

"We can never say that volcanoes are completely stopped until years or even many months. So the longer the time it is in this position of 'no activity', the more probable that the eruption has finally ended," volcanologist Alexis Schwartz told Euronews.

"The fact that the eruption has ended means that the conduit is at present locked by lavatory cooling down. So the new pools of magma that may try to reach the surface may find it increasingly more difficult to reach the surface," he stated.

"The Canary Islands, and especially La Palma, are very active volcanic islands. So constantly we measure the magma coming from the mantle and trying to reach the surface."

'Repair, rebuild, relaunch'

The damage from the eruption could exceed €900 million, according to regional officials.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has already pledged €225 million in aid funding to recovery efforts, including buying temporary housing and providing financial assistance to people who lost their jobs.

"We will continue working together, all the institutions, to relaunch the wonderful island of La Palma and repair the damage caused," Sanchez tweeted on Saturday.

Experts have warned it will take several years to clean up the land destroyed by the lava and remove huge amounts of ash from buildings and roads.

Many locals have complained that state aid has been slow in coming, with some already mulling moving away from the island known as "La Isla Bonita" ("The Beautiful Island") for its lush landscape.

The lava from the volcano created two new peninsulas when it cascaded into the ocean, one 44 hectares in size and the other about five hectares.

La Palma is now roughly 35 kilometres long and 20 kilometres wide at its broadest point.

The entire archipelago is made up of volcanic islands, and the recent activity, including that of other islands such as Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, has shown that further eruptions in the Canaries are far from excluded.

Watch the full interview with volcanologist Alexis Schwartz in the video player, above.