Lava Disaster - Hundreds more flee as lava spreads on Spain's La Palma
January 24 2022
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Lava Disaster

Hundreds more flee as lava spreads on Spain's La Palma

Published on October 15, 2021 7:31 AM
Red hot lava has already laid waste to nearly 600 hectares of land and destroyed about 1,500 houses and other buildings, including a cement plant that gave off toxic fumes earlier in the week. According to the official register, 300 people live in the area located between Tazacorte and La Laguna.
Around 300 more people fled their homes early on Thursday (Oct 14) as flows of molten rock pouring from the Cumbre Vieja volcano threatened to engulf another area on the Spanish island of La Palma.

Emergency crews gave people living between the towns of Tazacorte and La Laguna a few hours to collect their belongings and pets and go to a meeting point.

During the morning, a 4.5 magnitude earthquake rocked the island, the Spanish National Geographic Institute said - the strongest of 100 quakes that have hit the eruption zone over the past 24 hours.

Tremors have been recorded almost constantly since before the eruption.

With no end in sight to the eruption, which is in its fourth week, authorities said they were expecting the lava flow to keep spreading northwest from the volcano.

Volcano on Spain's La Palma island on Sept 20

The Cumbre Vieja volcano, situated in La Palma in the Canary Islands, started to spew hot lava and ash on 19 September 2021. Within hours, the area of Cumbre Vieja and the villages of El Paso and Los Llanos de Aridane had to be evacuated, as lava made its way towards the sea.

In the week before the eruption started, the island had been on high alert after more than 22,000 tremors had been reported in the area.

Lava continues to flow in the aftermath of the island's first volcanic eruption in 20 years, destroying hundreds of property and forcing the evacuation of over 5,500 people.

Authorities have evacuated about 5,000 people from villages in the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma as lava spews from an erupting volcano, local officials said.

The explosion of Mount Tambora in Indonesia is the largest ever recorded by humans. It ranks as a 7 as "super-colossal" on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. The volcano, which is still active, is one of the tallest peaks in Indonesia.

The eruption reached its peak in April 1815, when it exploded so loudly that it was heard on Sumatra Island, more than 1,200 miles away. The death toll from the eruption was estimated at 71,000 people, and clouds of heavy ash descended on many far-away islands.

The 15-metre high lava flow has already swallowed 20 houses in the village of El Paso and sections of roads, Mayor Sergio Rodriguez told TVE radio station on Monday (Sept 20) morning.

It is now spreading through the neighbouring village of Los Llanos de Aridane where hundreds of houses are at risk, he said.

"We are monitoring the trajectory of the lava," Mr Rodriguez said.

Since erupting on Sunday afternoon, the volcano has shot lava up hundreds metres into the air and poured flows of molten rock towards the Atlantic Ocean over a sparsely populated area of La Palma, the most northwestern island in the Canaries archipelago.

Local authorities have evacuated about 5,000 people from four villages, including El Paso and Los Llanos de Aridane, and no further evacuation are likely to be necessary, Canary Islands regional president Angel Victor Torres said on Monday morning.

"The lava is moving towards the coast and the damage will be material. According to experts there are about 17-20 million cubic metres of lava," he said.

No fatalities were reported and none are likely to happen so long as no one behaves recklessly, volcanologist Nemesio Perez said.

La Palma had been on high alert after more than 22,000 tremors were reported in the space of a week in Cumbre Vieja, which belongs to a chain of volcanoes that last had a major eruption in 1971 and is one of the most active volcanic regions in the Canaries.

In 1971, one man was killed as he was taking photographs near the lava flows, but no property was damaged. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrived in La Palma on Sunday night for talks with the islands' government on managing the eruption.

"We have all the resources and all the troops, citizens can rest easy," he said.

A volcano is a rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object, such as Earth, that allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface.

On Earth, volcanoes are most often found where tectonic plates are diverging or converging, and most are found underwater. For example, a mid-ocean ridge, such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, has volcanoes caused by divergent tectonic plates whereas the Pacific Ring of Fire has volcanoes caused by convergent tectonic plates. Volcanoes can also form where there is stretching and thinning of the crust's plates, such as in the East African Rift and the Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field and Rio Grande Rift in North America. Volcanism away from plate boundaries has been postulated to arise from upwelling diapirs from the core–mantle boundary, 3,000 kilometers deep in the Earth. This results in hotspot volcanism, of which the Hawaiian hotspot is an example. Volcanoes are usually not created where two tectonic plates slide past one another.

The most common perception of a volcano is of a conical mountain, spewing lava and poisonous gases from a crater at its summit; however, this describes just one of the many types of volcano. The features of volcanoes are much more complicated and their structure and behavior depends on a number of factors. Some volcanoes have rugged peaks formed by lava domes rather than a summit crater while others have landscape features such as massive plateaus. Vents that issue volcanic material and gases can develop anywhere on the landform and may give rise to smaller cones such as Pu?u ?O?o on a flank of Hawaii's Kilauea. Other types of volcano include cryovolcanoes, particularly on some moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune; and mud volcanoes, which are formations often not associated with known magmatic activity. Active mud volcanoes tend to involve temperatures much lower than those of igneous volcanoes except when the mud volcano is actually a vent of an igneous volcano.

Sabancaya volcano erupting, Peru in 2017

Cordillera de Apaneca volcanic range in El Salvador. The country is home to 170 volcanoes, 23 which are active, including two calderas, one being a supervolcano. El Salvador has earned the epithets endearment La Tierra de Soberbios Volcanes,.

Cleveland Volcano in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska photographed from the International Space Station, May 2006 Large eruptions can affect atmospheric temperature as ash and droplets of sulfuric acid obscure the Sun and cool the Earth's troposphere. Historically, large volcanic eruptions have been followed by volcanic winters which have caused catastrophic famines.

La Palma, like the other islands of the Canary Island archipelago, is a volcanic ocean island. The volcano rises almost 7 km above the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. There is road access from sea level to the summit at 2,426 m, which is marked by an outcrop of rocks called Los Muchachos. This is the site of the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, one of the world's premier astronomical observatories.

La Palma's geography is a result of the volcanic formation of the island. The highest peaks reach over 2,400 m above sea level, and the base of the island is located almost 4,000 m below sea level. The northern part of La Palma is dominated by the Caldera de Taburiente, with a width of 9 km and a depth of 1,500 m. It is surrounded by a ring of mountains ranging from 1,600 m to 2,400 m in height. On its northern side is the exposed remains of the original seamount. Only the deep Barranco de las Angustias ravine leads into the inner area of the caldera, which is a national park. It can be reached only by hiking. The outer slopes are cut by numerous gorges which run from 2,000 m down to the sea. Today, only a few of these carry water due to the many water tunnels that have been cut into the island's structure.

From the Caldera de Taburiente to the south runs the ridge Cumbre Nueva The southern part of La Palma consists of the Cumbre Vieja, a volcanic ridge formed by numerous volcanic cones built of lava and scoria. The Cumbre Vieja is active, currently erupting in the 2021 La Palma eruption. Beyond Punta de Fuencaliente at the southern tip of the island, the Cumbre Vieja continues in a southerly direction as a submarine volcano.

Like all of the Canary Islands, La Palma originally formed as a seamount through submarine volcanic activity. La Palma is currently, along with Tenerife, the most volcanically active of the Canary Islands and was formed three to four million years ago. Its base lies almost 4,000 m below sea level and reaches a height of 2,426 m above sea level. About a half a million years ago, the Taburiente volcano collapsed with a giant landslide, forming the Caldera de Taburiente. Erosion has since exposed part of the seamount in the northern sector of the Caldera. Since the Spanish have kept records, there have been eight eruptions – all of which have occurred on the Cumbre Vieja.

During the 1949 eruption – which commenced on the festivity of San Juan 24 June 1949 at the Duraznero, and 8 July 1949 Llano del Banco vents on the Cumbre Vieja – an earthquake, with an epicentre near Jedey, occurred. This is considered to have caused a 2.5-kilometre-long crack which Bonelli Rubio named 'La Grieta' –, to form, with a width of about 1 m and a depth of about 2 m. It attains a maximum displacement of ~4 m in the vicinity of the Hoyo Negro to Duraznero vents. It is not traceable southward from the Duraznero vent. North of the Hoyo Negro it traverses downslope and is traceable for ~1500 m. The total distance from the southern rim of the Duraznero vent to the Llano del Banco is ~4 km. In 1951 Ortiz and Bonelli-Rubio published further information in respect of the eruption and associated phenomena that occurred before and during the eruption. There is no indication that the crack has penetrated the edifice of the volcano, and, due to the absence of Minas Galerias within the Cumbre Vieja, there is no possibility of examining the internal structure of the flank. Carracedo et al.;. This means that claims that the flank is in danger of failing are unfounded. However the lack of supporting evidence has not stopped claims that the flank is in danger of failing.

In a programme transmitted by the British Broadcasting Corporation BBC Horizon broadcast on 12 October 2000, two geologists cited this crack as proof that half of the Cumbre Vieja had moved towards the Atlantic Ocean. They postulate that this process was driven by the pressure caused by the rising magma heating water trapped within the structure of the island. They hypothesised that during a future eruption, the western flank of the Cumbre Vieja, with a mass of approximately 1.5 x1015 kg, could slide into the ocean. This could then potentially generate a giant wave which they termed a 'megatsunami' around 650–900 m high in the region of the islands. The wave would radiate out across the Atlantic and inundate much of the eastern seaboard of North America about 7 hours later, many of the islands in the Caribbean and northern coasts of South America between six and eight hours later. They estimate that the tsunami will have waves possibly 50 m or higher causing massive devastation along the coastlines. Modelling suggests that the tsunami could inundate up to 25 km inland – depending upon topography. The basis for Ward and Day modelling the collapse of a much larger portion of the western flank than what the currently visible surface crack indicates as being potentially unstable, was based on geological mapping by Day et al.;. In this paper they argue that a large part of the western flank has been constructed in the scar of a previous collapse and therefore sits upon unstable debris.

However, nowhere in their paper do Ward and Day,, make any claim about the imminent collapse of the flank. They state that they have modelled the worst-case scenario, and as a result they state 'a future collapse has the potential to cause a tsunami which may devastate the east coast of the USA and other locations'.

The claim was also explored in a BBC docu-drama called End Day which went through several hypothetical scenarios of disastrous proportions.

In 2002 the Tsunami Society, published a statement stating '... We would like to halt the scaremongering from these unfounded reports...' The major points raised in this report include:

The claim that half of Cumbre Vieja dropped 4 m during the 1949 eruption is erroneous, and contradicted by physical evidence. No evidence was sought or shown that there is a fault line separating a 'block' of La Palma from the other half. Physical evidence shows a 4 km long line in the rock, but the models assumed a 25 km line, for which no physical evidence was given. Further, there is no evidence shown that the 4 km long line extends beyond the surface. There has never been an Atlantic megatsunami in recorded history. See Fogo, Cape Verde for an example of a geologically recent Atlantic megatsunami.

A survey carried out by Moss et al.; reported that the western flank is stable with no indication of aseismic creep being recorded.

In 2001 Carracedo et al.; stated that they consider the 1949 crack to be a shallow and inactive surface expression. They do suggest that the crack should be monitored, but consider the possibility that the edifice is unstable as being almost non-existent.

Murty et al.; claim that the morphology of the Atlantic Ocean prevents the generation and propagation of trans-oceanic tsunamis. However the Tohoku tsunami of 2011 propagated to Hawaii and the coast of California, a distance much greater than a trans-Atlantic crossing.

In 2006 professor Jan Nieuwenhuis of Delft University of Technology simulated several volcanic eruptions and calculated it would take another 10,000 years for the flanks to become sufficiently high and unstable to cause a massive collapse.

A 2008 paper looked into this very worst-case scenario, the most massive slide that could happen. They find wave heights in the range 10 to 188 meters in the Canary Isles themselves. But the waves interfere and dissipate as they head out into the Atlantic. They predict 40 meters height for some nearby island systems. For continents, the worst effects are in Northern Brazil, French Guyana, mid-US, Western Sahara and Mauritania. This is not large enough to count as a megatsunami, with the highest prediction for Western Sahara comparable to the Japanese tsunami, so it would only be a megatsunami locally in the mid Atlantic.

An underwater eruption that began in September 2011 south of the island of El Hierro gave rise to more speculation about the possibility of a megatsunami. As each island in the archipelago is an independent edifice often several tens of kilometres away from the adjacent island it is geologically impossible that volcanic activity on one island will influence the other islands. El Hierro lies about 100 km south of La Palma, over 100 km south-west of Tenerife. La Gomera – extinct since about 4 million year BP, Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura no eruptive history since about 10000 years BY, Lanzarote last erupted in the 19th century.

On Saturday and Sunday 7–8 October 2017, a series of minor tremors sparked panic on the Canary Islands, bringing up the topic again and asking how long the island will last until the next eruption/quake and how they will prepare for such an event. The north of the Spanish archipelago was struck by a 3.5 magnitude quake on 24 October 2017 at 8.25pm.

At the time of European colonization, the Canary Islands were inhabited by native Canarians, referred to collectively as Guanches, although the natives of La Palma are more correctly known as Auaritas. The origin of these natives is unclear but they are believed to share common ancestry with the Berbers of North Africa. The Guanches had a Neolithic culture divided into several clans led by chiefs. Their name for La Palma was Benahoare. The main remnants of this culture are their cave dwellings, enigmatic petroglyphs and paved stone paths through the mountains. After the Spanish occupation of La Palma, the native Canarians vanished by either being killed, sold into slavery or by assimilating into the Spanish population.

It is believed that the Canary Islands were known to the Phoenicians and Greeks, but the earliest written evidence is by the Roman writer Pliny The Elder, who quoted Juba II of Numidia, but Juba's writings were subsequently lost. The Genoese navigator Lancelotto Malocello reached the archipelago in 1312 and remained for two decades until expelled by a native uprising. In 1404 the Spaniards began the conquest of the islands. Though the first landing on La Palma was in 1405, it took until 1493 and several bloody battles until the last resistance of the natives was broken. The conqueror of La Palma was Alonso Fernández de Lugo, who defeated Tanausu, the last king on the island. He ruled the area known as Acero. Tanausu was ambushed after agreeing to a truce arranged by Fernández de Lugo and Juan de Palma, a Guanche who had converted to Christianity and who was a relative of Tanausu.

For the next two centuries, settlements on La Palma became rich as the island served as a trading post on the way to the New World. La Palma received immigrants from Castile, Majorca, Andalusia, Portugal and Catalonia.


Iglesia Nuestra Señora de La Luz The island is predominately Roman Catholic and since 1676, has been known for the festival of Fiestas Lustrales de la Bajada de la Virgen de las Nieves, which has a rich history, from the time of the Bishop of the Canaries, Bartolomé García Ximénez. The festival features the dancing of 'enanos' or midgets. The costumes that people wear have a hole at the top of the hat to allow them to see out, while giving the appearance of dancing midgets. People come from all over the world for the celebration which happens every five years. The image of the Virgin is taken down from her sanctuary and paraded around the city of Santa Cruz with the festival lasting nearly two weeks before she is returned. The last time this event was performed in 2015 and the next will be in 2025, as in 2020 had to be cancelled due to the global pandemic of COVID-19.

The Virgin of the Snow is the patron saint of La Palma. Many women on the island have the name 'Nieves' in her honor. Every 5 August the annual festival of the Virgin is celebrated.

On March 27, 1980, a series of volcanic explosions and pyroclastic flows began at Mount St. Helens in Skamania County, Washington, United States. A series of phreatic blasts occurred from the summit and escalated until a major explosive eruption took place on May 18, 1980. The eruption, which had a Volcanic Explosivity Index of 5, was the most significant to occur in the contiguous United States since the much smaller 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak in California. It has often been declared the most disastrous volcanic eruption in U.S. history.

The eruption was preceded by a two-month series of earthquakes and steam-venting episodes caused by an injection of magma at shallow depth below the volcano that created a large bulge and a fracture system on the mountain's north slope. An earthquake at 8:32:11 am PDT on Sunday, May 18, 1980 caused the entire weakened north face to slide away, creating the largest landslide in recorded history. This allowed the partly molten rock, rich in high-pressure gas and steam, to suddenly explode northward toward Spirit Lake in a hot mix of lava and pulverized older rock, overtaking the landslide. An eruption column rose 80,000 feet into the atmosphere and deposited ash in 11 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. At the same time, snow, ice, and several entire glaciers on the volcano melted, forming a series of large lahars that reached as far as the Columbia River, nearly 50 miles to the southwest. Less severe outbursts continued into the next day, only to be followed by other large, but not as destructive, eruptions later that year. Thermal energy released during the eruption was equal to 26 megatons of TNT.

About 57 people were killed, including innkeeper and World War I veteran Harry R. Truman, photographers Reid Blackburn and Robert Landsburg, and geologist David A. Johnston. Hundreds of square miles were reduced to wasteland, causing over $1 billion in damage, thousands of animals were killed, and Mount St. Helens was left with a crater on its north side. At the time of the eruption, the summit of the volcano was owned by the Burlington Northern Railroad, but afterward, the railroad donated the land to the United States Forest Service. The area was later preserved in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

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