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Monday, September 20, 2021

RIP Canary Islands as volcano erupts?

Live images of the volcanic eruption produced in Montaña Rajada, in the municipality of El Paso on the island of La Palma (Canary Islands, Spain), taken by the Interreg EELabs project camera, which from the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (Garafía, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias), looks towards the Caldera de Taburiente towards the south of the island. View from Roque de los Muchachos

It's always the same when something 'newsworthy' happens. The worst thing I did was read some of the comments (in three languages) alongside La Vanguardia's live reporting of the La Palma eruption yesterday. I'll not bore you with the huge number of totally irrelevant ones, but one, in Spanish perfectly summarized a lot of them, "erupciona un volcán y salen un montón de locos a anunciar el fin del mundo" (a volcano erupts and a mountain of idiots come out to announce the end of the world). Far from it. But, of course, tiny inconveniences like facts aren't going to get in the way of such people's opinions these days.

One comment, in English, really did say "RIP Canary Islands". (Thumps head against laptop.) Hello! The Canary Islands were formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. "The Canary Islands and some seamounts to the north-east form the Canary Volcanic Province whose volcanic history started about 70 million years ago." This eruption isn't going to kill / destroy the Canary Islands, if it won't even change the orography of La Palma. Indeed, the island will probably end up a little bit bigger than it was if the lava reaches the sea and makes some new land, as it did after the last eruption in 1971.

As Sheila Crosby on La Palma points out, "This is a small volcano, as volcanoes go." 

It was mentioned in yesterday's news coverage that some media outlets had been using misleading headlines and, frankly, I'm surprised that the Daily Mail hasn't done their usual "Holiday Chaos as Tourists Flee Volcanic Eruption ..." as though throwing themselves into the sea. Or maybe they have, because I'm not reading it to find out. Or maybe the 500 tourists who have been evacuated on La Palma are not British enough for them.

The UK government weighed in with, "If you are in an affected area you should follow the advice of local authorities, including social media updates from Cabildo de La Palma."

The situation in the area of ​​La Palma affected by the eruption "is devastating", because "a lava flow with an average height of six meters literally eats away homes, infrastructures, crops that it finds on its way to the coast of the valley of Aridane”, explained the president of the Cabildo, Mariano Hernández Zapata.

The new volcano [still to be named] that erupted on Sunday in La Palma is emitting 6,000 to 9,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) per day and has formed a stream with an average height of six meters that advances at 700 meters per hour, devastating houses in its path, crops and infrastructure. (The lava advances and has already "swallowed" a hundred homes and a school on La Palma.)

The volcanic eruption of La Palma has two fissures, about 200 meters apart, and eight vents through which the lava emerges, explained the technical director of the Canary Islands Volcanic Risk Prevention Plan, Pevolca, Miguel Ángel Morcuende.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 people remain evacuated from their homes to guarantee their safety in the face of this natural disaster that has led the Military Emergency Unit (UME) to deploy 67 members and 30 vehicles in La Palma. This contingent will be increased to 180 troops and 57 vehicles, while the arrival of three more seaplanes is scheduled for early afternoon, as reported by Defense Minister Margarita Robles. The minister has also declared that the possibility of sending specialized personnel in gases is being analysed, if necessary. The Navy is ready in case it was necessary to "make some kind of approach by sea."

Red Cross has described it as a "true catastrophe"

The president of the Red Cross in the Canary Islands, Antonio Rico, has described this natural disaster as a "true catastrophe". He has warned of the possibility of "a deterioration of coexistence" on the island of La Palma, by the many residents who will see their normal activity interrupted for a time that is impossible to predict and who will have lost a good part of their history. (Elsewhere, I read that already psychological support is being offered.)

The Red Cross has sent twenty personnel to La Palma who have joined the other 15 who were already working on the island to give support to the people housed in the shelter set up in a former military facility located in Santa Cruz de La Palma, as well as to tourists and security and emergency personnel deployed in the area.

This organization is part of the Civil Protection Plan in which all the administrations involved in this geological phenomenon intervene, including the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, who has been on the island since Sunday. Accompanied by the Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, Sánchez, this morning visited citizens who have been evacuated from their homes and who are staying at the El Fuerte barracks in Breña Baja. In the afternoon he plans to tour the area affected by the lava flows together with the President of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres. 

Of course the material losses are devastating for those who have lost homes, but actually, this should be seen as more of a success than of disaster: people had been prepared and knew about packing their Armageddon-out-of-here bag(TM); the experts were able to predict almost to the millimetre where the eruption would occur, and when. It could have been much worse. It still was never going to destroy the Canary Islands, mind you.

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