La Palma volcano’s underground vents are solidifying as lava dries up

By Marco Trujillo and Borja Suarez

LA PALMA, Spain (Reuters) – The underground conduits that feed lava from the Cumbre Vieja volcano in Spain’s La Palma island are solidifying, authorities said on Thursday, in a sign that the end of the three-month eruption could be announced by Christmas.

If seismic activity and other factors remain unchanged, La Palma authorities have set Dec. 24 as the day to declare the eruption is over.

“The emission of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, which was low yesterday, is not related to emerging magma, but to the solidification of existing magma in the vents,” Maria Jose Blanco, the director of the National Geographic Institute in the Canary Islands, said.

The eruption could be ending soon, but the emergency is far from over, as lava fumes could still be dangerous and some parts of the exclusion zone around the volcano are buried in ash that needs to be cleared.

Miguel Angel Morcuende, head of a task force set up to monitor the volcano, warned evacuees, who are now allowed to return to clean up their houses, that they should be cautious, especially those who live near the lava flows.

“They should not be alone, but with people to measure gas levels beforehand,” he said. “They should ventilate (their homes) for at least a quarter of an hour in order to release trapped gases.”

The 86-day eruption, which sent rivers of molten rock down the slopes of Cumbre Vieja and expanded the size of the island by more than 48 hectares, is the longest ever on La Palma, according to records dating back to the 16th century.

Thousands of people have been evacuated, at least 2,910 buildings have been destroyed and the island’s banana plantations, a major source of income, have been devastated.

(Writing by Emma Pinedo, editing by Inti Landauro and Giles Elgood)

Authorities say air still breathable in La Palma as lava pours into sea

LA PALMA, Spain (Reuters) -A river of lava cascaded into the Atlantic Ocean from Spain’s La Palma island in the early hours on Wednesday, releasing plumes of steam which could unleash toxic gas, although so far authorities said the air inland had not been contaminated.

Thousands of people have been evacuated since an eruption in the Canary Islands archipelago began 10 days ago. Three coastal villages had been locked down since Monday in anticipation of the lava reaching the sea and potentially liberating harmful gases.

Residents on the western coast had been told to seal doors and windows with tape and wet towels. That recommendation was not yet lifted, but authorities said measurements showed the air was so far still safe to breathe.

“The eruption has not affected air quality, which is perfectly breathable. Teams measuring the presence of gases make periodic checks and have not registered values that could be considered dangerous,” the La Palma Council said on Twitter.

Incandescent lava gushing from the volcano poured down a cliff into the sea early on Wednesday in the Playa Nueva area near the town of Tazacorte and could be seen protruding above the Atlantic Ocean waterline, sending clouds of steam into the sky.

Smoke clouds billowed from the volcano and the molten rock as it flowed down Cumbre Vieja’s western flank.

“All the people in a 2-km radius have been evacuated” and a wider area is in lockdown, Tazacorte Mayor Juan Miguel Rodriguez Acosta told TV3 channel, adding that no further evacuations had been needed so far as the cloud was moving east.

He said all roads to the southern part of the island on the western side had been cut off by the lava.

Since the eruption began on Sept. 19, lava has engulfed nearly 530 houses, as well as 1,200 land plots, mostly banana plantations. Spain classified La Palma as a disaster zone on Tuesday, a move that will trigger financial support for the island.

($1 = 1.1714 euros)

(Reporting by Miguel Pereira, Marco Trujillo, Jon Nazca, Nacho Doce and Borja Suarez in La Palma; Writing by Inti Landauro and Andrei Khalip; editing by Mark Heinrich, Giles Elgood, Peter Graff)