Volcanic mountains

A cloud of volcanic ash closes the airport of La Palma; a new vent makes its appearance


The airport on the Spanish island of La Palma closed on Saturday due to an ash cloud escaping from a volcano that has erupted for a week, and scientists say another volcanic vent has opened , exposing the islanders to possible new dangers.

The intensity of the eruption that began on September 19 has increased in recent days, causing the evacuation of three additional villages on the island, which is part of the Spanish archipelago of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean offshore from northwest Africa. Almost 7,000 people have been forced to leave their homes.

The recent volcanic eruption is the first since 1971 in La Palma, which has a population of 85,000.

La Palma airport operator Aena said the airport was “inoperative” due to the build-up of ash. Other airports in the Canary Islands were still operating on Saturday, but some airlines were suspending flights, Aena said.

Emergency crews withdrew from the volcano on Friday as explosions sent molten rock and ash over a large area. The Canary Islands Institute of Volcanology said another vent opened early on Saturday.

Rivers of lava slid down the mountain towards the island’s southwest coast, destroying everything in their path, including hundreds of homes. However, the speed of the flow has slowed considerably and the lava is barely advancing, with about 2 kilometers to reach the sea, said Miguel Ángel Morcuende, responsible for the Canary Islands volcanic emergency plan.

“I dare not tell you when it will get there, nor make any predictions,” Morcuende told reporters at a press conference.

A more immediate concern for the people of La Palma is the huge ash cloud that rises from the volcano and is blown by the wind to other parts of the island. Besides being a significant hazard to aviation, he said volcanic ash can damage people’s airways, lungs and eyes. The local government has urged residents of the affected areas to avoid going outside and to do so only by wearing masks and goggles.