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Airport Closed as La Palma Volcano Eruption Intensifies

Airport Closed as La Palma Volcano Eruption Intensifies

Saturday, 25 September, 2021 - 17:45
Lava and smoke rise after a volcano erupts on the Canary Island of La Palma in El Paso, Spain on September 25, 2021. (Reuters)

Volcanic explosions spewed red hot lava high into the air on La Palma on Saturday as a new emission vent opened, forcing the small Spanish island to close its airport and causing long queues for boats off the island.


The Cumbre Vieja volcano, which began erupting last Sunday, is entering a new explosive phase. The Canary Islands Volcanology Institute, Involcan, said the new emission vent that had opened was to the west of the principal vent.


The national Geographical and Mining Institute said its drones had shown the volcano’s cone had broken.


“It is not unusual in this type of eruption that the cone of the volcano fractures. A crater is formed that does not support its own weight and ... the cone breaks,” Miguel Angel Morcuende, director of volcano response committee Pevolca, told a news conference on Saturday. “This partial rupture happened overnight.”


Morcuende said the evacuations currently in place would be maintained for another 24 hours as a precaution.


The volcano has spewed out thousands of tons of lava, destroyed hundreds of houses and forced the evacuation of nearly 6,000 people since it began erupting last Sunday. La Palma, with a population of over 83,000, is one of an archipelago making up the Canary Islands in the Atlantic.


Spanish airport operator Aena said the island’s airport had closed.


“La Palma airport is inoperative due to ash accumulation. Cleaning tasks have started, but the situation may change at any time,” it tweeted.


Workers swept volcanic ash off the runway, electronic boards showed cancelled flights and the departures hall was quiet as some people arriving at the airport discovered they would not be able to fly out.


Queues at the port

There were long queues at La Palma’s main port as people, some whose flights had been cancelled, tried to get ferries off the island.


“I am going to Barcelona. But because we can’t fly we are taking the ferry to Los Cristianos (on Tenerife island) and from there we will go to the airport and fly to Barcelona,” said Carlos Garcia, 47.


People evacuated from three more towns on Friday will not be able to return to their homes to retrieve their belongings because of the “evolution of the volcanic emergency,” local authorities said.


“Volcanic surveillance measurements carried out since the beginning of the eruption recorded the highest-energy activity so far during Friday afternoon,” emergency services said.


At the quiet port of Tazacorte, fishermen described the devastating effect the eruption has had on their livelihoods.


“We haven’t been out fishing in a week, the area is closed,” said Jose Nicolas San Luis Perez, 49, who lost his house in the eruption.


“About half the people I know have lost their homes,” he told Reuters. “I run into friends on the street and we start crying.”


On Friday, authorities evacuated the towns of Tajuya, Tacande de Abajo and the part of Tacande de Arriba that had not already been evacuated after the new vent opened up in the flank of the volcano.


No fatalities or serious injuries have been reported in the volcano’s eruption, but about 15% of the island’s economically crucial banana crop could be at risk, jeopardizing thousands of jobs.


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