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La Palma, one of Spain's Canary Islands, has been feeling the wrath of the Cumbre Vieja volcano since September 19, 2021. The explosive volcano, which came to life shortly after 3:00 pm local time, has been spewing out large amounts of molten lava, sometimes up to 20 feet (6 meters) high. The slow-moving rivers of magma have destroyed nearly 400 homes, buried dozens of kilometers of roads, and consumed hundreds of acres of farmland.
On Tuesday, September 28, 2021, the Canary Islands Volcanic Institute confirmed that the lava had started pouring into the Atlantic Ocean. Officials fear that the magma's interaction with the cold water will release toxic gases and small particles. They are asking area residents to stay indoors and keep their windows closed. Scientists are also concerned that the chemical reactions between the lava and water may result in powerful underwater explosions.
Experts are unsure when Cumbre Vieja, or "Old Summit," will calm down. La Palma's Teneguía volcano, which came alive in 1971, remained active for more than three weeks. "The only way to know is to know the total volume of eruptible magma under Cumbre Vieja," says Pablo J. González, a physical volcanologist at the Spanish National Research Council. "That piece of information is unknown."
The only silver lining is that no lives have been lost yet. Cumbre Vieja provided plenty of warning — in the form of 20,000 small earthquakes — during the week leading up to the first eruption. This, together with the magma's slow pace, has allowed officials to safely evacuate the over 6,000 residents in its path.
La Palma is among the smallest of the main eight volcanic islands in Spain's Canary Islands archipelago, which is strung along Africa's northwestern coast. The largely rural community of 85,000 residents depends on crops like bananas, avocados, and grapes for its livelihood. Unfortunately, the lava has buried many plantations and left thousands homeless. While it may take months, or perhaps even a few years, to recover from the destruction, the Spanish government has promised to do everything it can to help.
"The people of La Palma should rest assured that we have all the resources and emergency personnel necessary," Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said after meeting the local officials on September 19, 2021.
Stay Strong, La Palma!
Resources: elpais.com, Smithsonianmag.com, NPR.com,