Homes and farmland engulfed by Canary Island volcanic eruption

Thousands evacuated to avoid lava flows on La Palma amid fears for when lava reaches sea

Lava from a volcanic eruption on the Spanish island of La Palma, which has caused thousands of people to evacuate their homes, is continuing to devour buildings and farmland.

The volcano, in the Cumbre Vieja mountain range of the Canary island, erupted on Sunday, sending clouds of ash and gas into the sky and streams of lava pouring down its flanks.

By Wednesday afternoon 6,800 people had been evacuated. Over 300 homes have already been consumed by the two main lavas flows, which in some areas are 12m high and up to 600m wide.

Locals in the town of Todoque, which was in the path of the northernmost lava flow, frantically loaded food, clothes, furniture and other belongings on to vehicles provided by the local government as they started evacuating on Tuesday. However, people were allowed back into the town of 1,200 inhabitants on Wednesday to collect essentials because the lava’s movement had slowed.


“We are waiting to go to the house of a friend to get a special bed for his mother, who is elderly,” a local farmer called Diego told news site, as he waited outside the town for permission to return.

“You’re at home and suddenly they tell you that you have to leave, immediately, taking only essential things,” Óscar, a local man, told EFE news agency. “And you have to go to the house of a relative or someone who’ll take you in without knowing what’s happened. You’re worried, you feel impotent, you’re desperate, and the town is disappearing.”

By Wednesday afternoon the lava had covered much of the town.


There are also concerns about the eruption’s impact on farmland. La Palma depends heavily on agriculture and provides much of the Canary Islands’ banana crop. The lava has destroyed much of that crop, and there are fears that more will be wiped out.

In addition, many banana fields cannot be watered because the lava has cut them off and the transport of the harvest has been disrupted by road closures.

“The people of La Palma are responding with solidarity in a hugely efficient way,” said interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, who was on the island. He added that “for us the emergency does not end until we can achieve recovery, recovery for those people who have been affected”.

The slowing of the lava’s movement means that it has not yet reached the sea. There are concerns that if and when it does its contact with the water could release poisonous gases and trigger explosions.

The Canary Islands' institute of volcanology has estimated that the eruption is likely to last between 3½ weeks and up to three months. The last eruption on the island, in 1971, which was the most recent of its kind in Spain, lasted 24 days.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain