Lava from La Palma volcano reaches ocean, amid toxic gas fears

Lava from the volcano on La Palma in the Canary Islands has reached the ocean, a situation feared as potentially dangerous due to the toxic gas that is created.

Ten days after the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on the island, the molten rock finally reached the sea on Tuesday night.

This encounter between lava, a rock melted at more than 1,000 degrees Celsius, and seawater that is around 20-25 degrees Celsius, was particularly feared because of the production of toxic gases and harmful particles that it could cause, making it potentially very dangerous.

The regional government of the archipelago has ordered a “2 nautical mile exclusion radius” around the area where the lava was expected to arrive.

Images broadcast by regional television in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa, showed glowing lava entering the water amid a large amount of smoke.

The Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on 19 September.

On Tuesday afternoon, the lava, which had varied greatly in speed over the past few days, even coming to a standstill at one point, was still some 800 metres from the sea, making it impossible to predict when it would reach the ocean.

On Monday, residents of several neighbourhoods in Tazacorte, a village located near the coast, were told to stay indoors to protect themselves from possible toxic gas emissions resulting from the lava’s arrival in the ocean.

This decision was taken because of “the possibility that there will be a small shock when the magma enters the sea and that this small shock will cause vapours that could be toxic”, said the technical director of the Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan (Pevolca), Miguel Ángel Morcuende.

No information was immediately available on the quantity of toxic gases produced and the danger of the situation.

The entry of the lava into the sea came hours after the government released 10.5 million euros in direct aid to the victims of the eruption on Tuesday, including the purchase of housing for those whose homes were engulfed by the lava.

A state of natural disaster has been declared on the island of 85,000 people, where lava flows have destroyed a total of 656 buildings – not all of them homes – and covered 268 hectares of land, according to the European geospatial measurement system Copernicus.

The lava also destroyed many roads. The president of the Canary Islands region, Angel Victor Torres, estimated last week that the damage would exceed 400 million euros and said he was counting on European funds to rebuild.

No one was killed or injured in the eruption, but more than 6,000 people had to leave their homes.

Since it erupted, the volcano has been spewing huge columns of smoke up to several hundred metres high, as well as ash.

The accumulation of ash has disrupted air traffic, causing the cancellation of seven scheduled domestic flights on Friday and the closure of the airport the following day. Although it has officially reopened, flights remain suspended for the time being.

Experts believe the eruption could last for several weeks or even months.

The two previous eruptions in La Palma took place in 1949 and 1971. They caused a total of three deaths, two of which were caused by gas inhalation.

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