Spain’s La Palma lifts lockdown imposed after volcano soured air quality

By Marco Trujillo

LA PALMA, Spain (Reuters) – Authorities in Spain’s La Palma lifted a stay-at-home order on Monday just a few hours after telling people to stay indoors due to poor air quality caused by the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano.

The eruption, which has sent spectacular rivers of molten lava running down the slopes of Cumbre Vieja for nearly three months, is the longest running on the Spanish Canary island since records began in 1500.

Around 24,500 residents in Los Llanos de Aridane, El Paso and Tazacorte – a third of La Palma’s inhabitants – were asked to stay indoors due to emissions of sulphur dioxide that had reached “extremely adverse” levels, authorities said.

In affected municipalities, residents were told to stay inside, while students were told to remain in schools and parents not to pick them up until the air quality cleared.

However, a few hours later, emergency services lifted the order thanks to an improvement in air quality data and said students would leave school at the regular time.

“We’re all a bit scared,” said 64-year old Carlos Ramos in Los Llanos de Aridane, explaining that nothing similar had happened with previous eruptions on the island.

“We’ll see how it all ends because I don’t trust it (the volcano) and I’m not totally sure it’s ever going to end.”

Lava flows have damaged or destroyed at least 2,910 buildings, according to the EU satellite monitoring system Copernicus, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people from their homes on the island, part of the subtropical Canaries archipelago.

(Reporting by Marco Trujillo and Borja Suárez; writing by Emma Pinedo; editing by Nathan Allen, Mark Heinrich and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Rock rises out of the sea as second La Palma lava flow reaches ocean

MADRID (Reuters) – New cascades of red-hot lava tumbled into the Atlantic Ocean off Spain’s La Palma on Wednesday morning, sending up plumes of white smoke and extending a platform of volcanic rock created by earlier flows.

The stream of molten rock from the Cumbre Vieja volcano, which began erupting in mid-September, reached the water near the popular surf spot of Los Guirres beach just before 2 a.m., according to the Transport Ministry.

A video uploaded by Spain’s Geology and Mining Institute showed rivers of molten rock sliding into the sea and large rocks rolling down a cliff, causing a cone of debris to emerge from the waterline.

Unlike the first time lava reached the ocean – just over a month ago – authorities said there was no need for residents to stay indoors.

“New confinements are not necessary because the populations are far away from the point of contact with the sea that occurred last night,” an emergency services spokesperson told Reuters.

Few people live in the affected area, which is mostly banana plantations.

Early on in the eruption authorities had feared that the reaction between the superheated lava and seawater could unleash powerful explosions and set off toxic gas clouds.

During the last major eruption on the island, some 50 years ago, a man died after inhaling such gases.

La Palma’s council said on Tuesday that seismic activity around the eruption site, as well as emissions of toxic sulphur dioxide, had been decreasing and the air quality remained good across most of the island.

(Reporting by Nathan Allen and Emma Pinedo; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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)

Hundreds more flee as lava spreads on Spain’s La Palma

LA PALMA (Reuters) – Around 300 more people fled their homes early on Thursday as flows of molten rock pouring from the Cumbre Vieja volcano threatened to engulf another area on the Spanish island of La Palma.

Emergency crews gave people living between the towns of Tazacorte and La Laguna a few hours to collect their belongings and pets and go to a meeting point.

During the morning, a 4.5 magnitude earthquake rocked the island, the Spanish National Geographic Institute said – the strongest of 100 quakes that have hit the eruption zone over the past 24 hours.

Tremors have been recorded almost constantly since before the eruption.

With no end in sight to the eruption, which is in its fourth week, authorities said they were expecting the lava flow to keep spreading northwest from the volcano.

Red hot lava has already laid waste to nearly 600 hectares of land and destroyed about 1,500 houses and other buildings, including a cement plant that gave off toxic fumes earlier in the week.

The flow has also devoured banana and avocado plantations vital to the island’s economy.

According to the official register, 300 people live in the area located between Tazacorte and La Laguna.

A small group of between 10 and 15 people who lived nearby already left on Wednesday evening. More than 6,000 people have been evacuated on the island of 83,000 people.

(Reporting by Silvio Castellanos, Sergio Perez and Bart Biesemans; Writing by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Inti Landauro, Robert Birsel and Andrew Heavens)

More destruction feared in La Palma as lava pours from new volcano vent

By Juan Medina and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) -Lava flowed from a newly opened crack in the Cumbre Vieja volcano on Spain’s La Palma on Friday, carving a different path from previous flows and raising fears of more destruction, while fine ash forced islanders to don masks and goggles.

A river of red-hot lava snaked downhill from the new fissure, which burst open late on Thursday around 400 meters (1,300 ft.) to the north of the primary eruption site.

Multiple vents have opened since the volcano began erupting on Sept. 19 but the Canaries Volcanology Institute described the latest opening as a new “focus of eruption.”

“There is concern about the path of this new flow towards the sea, although it is expected to join up with the previous one within the next few hours,” said the head of La Palma’s council, Mariano Hernandez Zapata.

He said more houses had been engulfed by lava overnight.

“We have more drama ahead, more people to take care of,” he told a news conference.

About 6,000 people have been evacuated since the eruption began and are yet to return home. More than 800 buildings including houses, churches and schools have been destroyed.

The volcano has thrown out 80 million cubic meters of molten rock, regional leader Angel Victor Torres said, doubling the amount expelled during La Palma’s last major eruption 50 years ago in half the time.

Residents of Los Llanos de Aridane, one of the worst affected towns, have taken to carrying umbrellas and wearing eye protection as a precaution against the volcanic dust blanketing the streets and floating in the air.

“Last night the ash was irritating my eyes a lot, I had to use eye drops and my skin was stinging,” said Matilde Gonzalez Tavarez, a 45-year-old nursing assistant visiting her mother at a care home in Los Llanos.

“It’s helplessness, fear, insecurity. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said, while street cleaners brushed away the carpet of black ash behind her.

Juan Antonio Perez Gonzalez, 56, who runs a floristry business in the town, fears the worst is yet to come.

“I can’t put a good face on it or give you good news because this is a calamity,” he told Reuters. He said many of the townspeople were preparing to pack up and leave.

(Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo in Madrid; Writing by Nathan Allen; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Janet Lawrence)

La Palma residents grapple with devastation wrought by volcano

By Miguel Pereira and Borja Suarez

LA PALMA, Spain (Reuters) -Residents of Spain’s La Palma were struggling on Thursday to come to terms with the devastation wrought by the Cumbre Vieja volcano, which has been ejecting a destructive cocktail of ash, smoke and lava for more than 10 days.

Carmen Rodriguez, who lost her home in the village of Todoque, was caught off guard by the advancing column of molten rock.

“We never thought that the volcano was going to reach our house, never,” she said, recalling how she rushed to salvage belongings during a last-minute evacuation before the lava engulfed her home.

“There were so many people and difficulties, there was a queue. Thankfully we were able to take the washing machine, the fridge and a cooker that I recently bought.”

“I only ask that they give us a place to live, that they give us a habitable house, nothing more,” she said.

Some 6,000 people have been evacuated and are yet to return to their houses, a local government spokesperson said on Thursday.

Since erupting on Sept. 19 the volcano has destroyed more than 800 buildings, as well as banana plantations, roads and other infrastructure.

“It’s unimaginable that this would happen, and now we are living worse days than the COVID state, which was already a bit unreal,” said Dutch national Emilie Sweerts, who has lived on the island in the Canaries archipelago for six years.

“I really thought this would be my paradise island,” she said from her jewelry store in Tazacorte, a small coastal town which the lava ploughed through on its way to the sea, wrecking houses and farms.

After meandering downhill to the coast for nearly 10 days, the lava reached the ocean just before midnight on Tuesday a kilometer west of Tazacorte and has created a rocky outcrop more than 500 meters wide.

On reaching the water, the lava cools rapidly, binding to the cliffside and enlarging the island’s territory.

Despite fears of toxic gases from the lava reacting with the seawater, authorities said the air remained safe to breathe inland.

Emergency services warned that ash thrown out from the crater was blocking sunlight and reducing visibility.

Several villages near the coastline remained locked down as a precaution but banana farmers were allowed access to their plantations to tend their crops.

Reuters correspondents on the island said the eruption appeared to have calmed from around 1000 GMT and no lava was being expelled from the crater, though smoke continued to billow out.

(Writing by Nathan Allen, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Forest fire closes in on Turkish power station

By Mert Ozkan and Tuvan Gumrukcu

MILAS, Turkey (Reuters) -A forest fire moved closer to a coal-fired power station in southwestern Turkey on Tuesday evening and wildfires raged near southern resorts for a seventh day as firefighting planes from Spain and Croatia joined the battle to quell them.

Eleven fires were still blazing, fanned by strong winds, temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F), and low humidity, officials said. Plumes of black smoke rose from hillsides and forests near the coastal resorts of Bodrum and Marmaris.

“The situation is very serious. The flames have come to the edge of the thermal power plant,” Muhammet Tokat, mayor of Milas to the east of the major resort Bodrum, said on Twitter.

He shared a video taken from a vessel at sea showing a fire blazing on a hillside under a night sky, a few hundred meters from the illuminated Kemerkoy power station and called for a plane or helicopter with night vision to be sent to the area.

Two firefighting planes from Spain and one from Croatia joined teams from Russia, Iran, Ukraine and Azerbaijan to battle blazes on Tuesday, after Turkey requested European support.

The mayors of the southern resort cities of Bodrum and Antalya have pleaded for more planes this week as the fires raged near Mediterranean and Aegean coasts.

A village near Milas was evacuated with flames engulfing houses and buildings, Reuters TV footage showed.

Opposition parties criticized President Tayyip Erdogan and his government for depleting firefighting resources over the years. Thousands also took to social media calling for Erdogan to step down, while others criticized the lack of resources and what they called inadequate preparations.

“To say it frankly, Turkey is not being managed,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). “The government of the (presidential) palace has rendered our state incapable.”

Responding to criticism that the government had rejected some offers of international help, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey had assessed many proposals, prioritizing offers of planes and helicopters.

He said some countries, including France and Greece, rescinded their offers because of their own needs and fires. Israel’s foreign ministry said it discussed the situation with Turkish officials but was told Turkey did not need assistance.

Turkey’s radio and television watchdog RTUK told broadcasters on Tuesday that negative coverage of the fires could encourage “an atmosphere of chaos”, harming the public’s and firefighters’ morale. It warned the media of the “harshest punishments” if they did not adhere to RTUK’s principles.

The heatwave that has fueled the fires came after months of exceptionally dry weather in Turkey’s southwest, according to maps issued by meteorological authorities.

Data from the European Forest Fire Information Service showed there have been three times as many fires as usual this year, while the more than 136,000 hectares burnt in Turkey were three times the area burnt on average in an entire year.

Eight people have been killed in a total of 156 wildfires which have erupted in the last week. There were no reports of further casualties on Tuesday.

The government is investigating the cause of the fires, including possible arson. Authorities caught one person who tried to light a fire outside a military compound in the southwestern province of Denizli, the Defense Ministry said.

Since Wednesday, thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes and some tourists fled their hotels by boat or by road, although Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy said holidaymakers had returned within hours.

(Reporting by Mert Ozkan, Mehmet Emin Caliskan in Marmaris and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Dominic Evans/Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool)

Spain surpasses 4 million coronavirus cases since pandemic began

MADRID (Reuters) -Spain surpassed 4 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began on Tuesday after adding 43,960 new cases, as the more contagious Delta variant drives a surge of infections among unvaccinated young people.

The nationwide 14-day infection rate reached nearly 437 cases per 100,000 people on Tuesday, up from 368 cases a day earlier, health ministry data showed. Among 20 to 29-year-olds, that figure was 1,421 per 100,000.

“With the end of the school year, increased mobility, greater social interaction and super-spreader events, the cumulative incidence curve has risen again,” Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias said on Tuesday.

Cases began to surge again in the middle of June after a long decline, propelled by the Delta variant and more socializing among younger groups.

Although infection numbers have been rising steadily, daily deaths remain low, with the new cases primarily reported among younger, unvaccinated people who are less likely to fall seriously ill.

The country reported 13 new fatalities on Tuesday, bringing the total death toll total to 81,033. Darias said the current pressure on the country’s health system was nothing like it was in previous waves of the pandemic.

Some hard-hit Spanish regions have introduced new rules such as night-time curfews to tackle the surge.

The Catalan regional government said all activities would have to shut at 12:30 a.m. and eating or drinking in public areas would be banned. The measures are pending court approval.

“The most important thing at the moment is to contain the spread of the virus, which will require regional measures,” Darias said.

Spain’s tourism continues to be in a tight spot, with many businesses struggling to make ends meet. The same is happening across the border in Portugal, where the variant is responsible for all cases in the popular Algarve region.

(Reporting by Andrei Khalip and Catarina Demony; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Spanish rescuers search sea for missing toddler after girl found dead

By Borja Suarez and Emma Pinedo

TENERIFE, Spain (Reuters) -Spanish rescuers were searching waters off the coast of Tenerife for a one-year-old girl on Friday after a body which was reportedly confirmed to be her six-year-old sister was found weighed down in the ocean to an outpouring of rage and grief on the island.

Their father, Tomas G., is the main suspect in the disappearance of Olivia, 6, and Anna, 1, after failing to return them to their mother as agreed at the end of April. He is also missing.

Fingerprint checks have confirmed that the body found weighed down in the sea was that of Olivia, according to judicial sources cited by El Pais newspaper.

The family lived on Tenerife, where officials and a few local residents observed a minute of silence in memory of the sisters in front of the main city hall and outside other official buildings on the Canary Islands.

“All Spain is shocked, all our support for the families whose pain is absolutely unbearable and unimaginable, all our rejection of sexist violence, the vicarious violence that some still deny in our country,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Friday during a visit to Costa Rica.

The body of the 6-year-old, which authorities said was likely that of Olivia, was found on Thursday afternoon at a depth of 1,000 meters inside a sports bag tied to an anchor, near where her father’s boat was drifting.

Another empty sports bag was also found next to them, a court statement said.

Authorities were about to call off the maritime search earlier this week when they found personal belongings of the father at sea.

On the streets of Tenerife people mourned the girls.

“Every mother and grandmother feels the greatest sorrow, mainly for her (the girls’ mother)… It’s as if they were our own daughters or granddaughters,” said local resident Maria Victoria.

Spain’s left-wing government has put women’s rights at the top of its political agenda and sought to combat prevailing macho attitudes.

In Seville, a former boyfriend of Rocio Caiz, 17, was arrested after he allegedly confessed to killing her and cutting up her body.

Almost 1,100 women have been killed by partners or ex-partners since a register was created in 2003, shortly before a gender violence law was approved, while some 39 children have been killed during attacks on their mothers since 2013.

(Reporting by Borja Suarez in Tenerife, Emma Pinedo and Cristina Galan in Madrid; Graham Keeley writing by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Alistair Bell)

Spain vows to restore order after thousands swim into Ceuta from Morocco

By Jon Nazca and Mariano Valladolid

CEUTA, Spain (Reuters) -A sudden influx of migrants swimming into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in northern Africa is a serious crisis for Europe, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Tuesday, vowing to re-establish order promptly amid heightened diplomatic tensions with Morocco.

Spain deployed troops to Ceuta to patrol the border with Morocco after around 8,000 migrants, many from Sub-Saharan Africa and including some 1,500 minors, entered the enclave on Monday and Tuesday by swimming in or climbing over the fence.

Armored vehicles were guarding Ceuta’s beach on Tuesday, and soldiers and police used batons to clear migrants from the beach and threw smoke bombs to discourage others from crossing.

A Reuters reporter on the ground said the number of arrivals by sea had slowed, and some migrants were voluntarily returning to Morocco. A few others could be seen being carried away by soldiers, but dozens still waded in the water towards Ceuta.

Spain said approximately 4,000 migrants had already been sent back to Morocco, under a readmission deal.

The regional leader of Ceuta criticized what he described as Morocco’s passivity in the face of Monday’s surge, and some independent experts said Rabat had initially allowed it as a means of pressuring Madrid over its decision to admit a rebel leader from the Western Sahara to a Spanish hospital.

Moroccan authorities did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

The Spanish government did not make that connection, with Sanchez calling the north African nation a friend of Spain and the interior ministry citing cooperation over the readmissions, although Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya told Morocco’s ambassador Spain rejected and disapproved of the mass arrivals.

Moroccan TV footage showed the authorities setting up barriers on Tuesday to prevent people from crossing into Ceuta.

“This sudden arrival of irregular migrants is a serious crisis for Spain and Europe,” Sanchez said in a televised address before his arrival in Ceuta.

European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas tweeted that the enclave’s frontier was a European border, expressing his “full solidarity with Spain”.

Ceuta, with a population of 80,000, is on the northern tip of Morocco across from Gibraltar. Along with another Spanish enclave, Melilla, it has long been a magnet for African migrants seeking a better life in Europe. Morocco has a claim on both.

WESTERN SAHARA DISPUTE

The spike in arrivals took place after Rabat expressed its anger last month when Spain discreetly admitted Brahim Ghali, the leader of Western Sahara’s rebel Polisario Front to hospital. Madrid said it acted on purely humanitarian grounds.

Morocco’s Foreign Ministry criticized what it said was Spain’s decision to admit Ghali under a false identity without informing Morocco, warning of repercussions.

The Polisario Front wants the Western Sahara to be an independent state rather than part of Morocco. Algeria, Morocco’s regional rival, backs the Polisario Front.

The United States in December recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara territory.

(Reporting by Belen Carreno, Joan Faus, Cristina Galan and Inti Landauro, Writing by Andrei Khalip and Ingrid Melander, Editing by Estelle Shirbon and Alexandra Hudson)