La Palma evacuees see no end to ordeal after month of volcanic eruption

By Guillermo Martinez

LA PALMA, Spain (Reuters) -One month after the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on the Spanish island of La Palma spewing red-hot lava and ash, Culberta Cruz, her husband and their dog are living in a tiny caravan on a parking lot and see no end of the ordeal in sight.

“I’m tired, so tired … but who are we to fight against nature?,” the 56-year-old hospital kitchen worker said, sitting on a camping chair.

Her husband, banana grower Tono Gonzalez, was pulling electric cables and water hoses to connect to the vehicle, with their French bulldog looking on. The couple have been living in the small camping car for a month, constantly brushing off volcanic ash from the vehicle.

“One day it’s exploding there, the other a vent opens here, it’s just anguish and living in fear, waiting and praying for it to stop erupting,” Cruz said. “And it’s a lot of sadness for those who lost their homes.”

Streams of red-hot lava have engulfed almost 800 hectares (2000 acres) of land, destroying about 2,000 buildings and many banana plantations since the eruption started on Sept. 19. More than 6,000 people have had to leave their homes.

Carmen del Fresno, from the National Geographic Institute’s volcano monitoring department, told Reuters the eruption was unlikely to stop for at least another week, but there was no way to predict how long it would last.

“Historical records show eruptions lasting 24 to 84 days … It would be logical to assume something within those bounds, but we cannot risk (predicting) anything.”

After being ordered to evacuate, Cruz and Gonzalez first stayed at a relative’s farm and then took the caravan to the parking lot where they could get fresh water and a bit of electricity. They are now looking into renting an apartment that accepts pets.

“We don’t know when it’s going to stop, that’s the problem. This is nature and we have to deal with it, it’s bigger than us,” said Gonzalez.

Added Cruz: “The future is to try to remove what (belongings) we had and to wait for it to end, then get back to the lives we had before, even if it will be more difficult.”

(Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo in Madrid, writing by Inti Landauro and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Peter Graff)

Death toll rises to 31 in PNG quake as weather and damage hamper relief effort

Locals surround a house that was covered by a landslide in the town of Mendi after an earthquake struck Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands, in this image taken February 27, 2018 obtained from social media. Francis Ambrose/via REUTERS

By Tom Westbrook

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The death toll from the strongest earthquake to strike Papua New Guinea’s rugged interior in almost a century has climbed to 31 and would probably rise further, officials said on Thursday, as damage to roads, runways and phone lines slowed relief efforts.

Remote hamlets closest to the epicenter of the 7.5 magnitude quake in the Southern Highlands were buried, killing 13 people, said James Justin, a research officer at the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Port Moresby in an email, citing a two-way radio call from a mission station in the region.

Most of the other confirmed fatalities were in or around the provincial capital of Mendi and the town of Tari 40 km (25 miles) from the epicenter, where aftershocks continue to be felt and people afraid their homes may yet collapse have been sleeping in their yards.

“Tari is completely shut down,” Mark Mendai, head of the district’s Development Authority told Reuters by phone.

“All the water tanks have been turned over and at the moment people are suffering a lack of fresh water, all the rivers are dirty,” he said. “The runway has some cracks, the district offices are all spoiled, all our roads within Tari are cracked, blocking traveling traffic.”

A spokesman from the country’s National Disaster Centre said a preliminary damage assessment from the quake, which struck the mountainous Southern Highlands some 560 km (350 miles) northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, was still incomplete.

Australia has promised tarpaulins, water purification tablets, and water containers, and despatched a military C-130 transport plane to assist with aerial surveillance.

Pictures showed collapsed buildings in Mendi and residents using shovels to clear away landslides.

That left those injured in villages to the west unable to reach the general hospital, where wards were largely empty except for long-term patients, Wendy Tinaik, assistant to the hospital’s director, said by phone.

Miners and oil and gas companies were also assessing damage to their infrastructure, including a 700-km (435-mile) gas pipeline that connects to a coastal liquefaction plant, but were hampered by bad weather according to Oil Search Ltd.

Quake damage shut the region’s biggest airfield at Komo, built to supply remote Exxon Mobil Corp facilities, though bush airstrips were accessible and Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) evacuated four people to Mt Hagen.

“As we flew and photographed all that we could see, we prayed for those below that had been affected,” said Connie-Lou Aebischer from MAF.

“The majority of the landslides were in what appeared to be largely uninhabited mountainous regions, or at least sporadically inhabited, which was the saving grace through this ongoing instability in the earth.”

(This version of the story has been refiled to fix typo in headline)

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook in Sydney. Additional reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne)