‘All we can do is cry’ – La Palma volcano leaves trail of devastation

By Borja Suarez and Marco Trujillo

LA PALMA, Spain (Reuters) -Lava flowed from an erupting volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma for a fourth day on Wednesday, forcing more people to evacuate their homes and blanketing towns in ash, while residents struggled to come to terms with the destruction.

“All we can do is cry. We are a small business, we live off all these people who have lost everything,” said Lorena, 30, who works in a jewelers in the small town of Los Llanos de Aridane.

Since erupting on Sunday, lava from the Cumbre Vieja volcano has destroyed at least 150 houses and forced thousands of people to flee, mostly in Los Llanos de Aridane and nearby El Paso.

Holding back tears as she swept away a thick layer of ash from the street outside her store, Nancy Ferreiro, the jewelry shop owner, said: “There are no words to explain this feeling.”

Less than 5 km (3 miles) to the south, in Todoque, forked tongues of black lava advanced slowly westward, incinerating everything in their path, including houses, schools and the banana plantations that produce the island’s biggest export.

Emergency services tried to redirect the lava towards a gorge in an effort to minimize damage but had little success.

“Faced with the column of advancing lava … nothing can be done,” regional leader Angel Victor Torres told a news conference, adding that the flow had slowed to a crawl.

Miguel Angel Morcuende, technical director of the Pevolca eruption taskforce, said the lava’s speed had reduced so much that it might not reach the sea.

Experts had originally predicted it would hit the Atlantic Ocean late on Monday, potentially causing explosions and sending out clouds of toxic gases. Marine authorities are keeping a two nautical mile area in the sea closed as a precaution.

Morcuende said for now there was no indication that gases released by the eruption were damaging to human health.

People from the El Paso neighborhood of Jerey were ordered to evacuate on Wednesday as the lava crept close to their homes.

About 6,000 of La Palma’s population of 80,000 have been evacuated since Sunday. Some were allowed back briefly to recover belongings.

Property portal Idealista estimated the volcano had caused around 87 million euros ($102 million) in property destruction so far.

Late on Tuesday, the Canary Islands’ volcanology institute said the scale of seismic activity within the volcano was intensifying.

Drone footage captured towers of magma bursting high into the air, spraying debris onto the flanks of the Cumbre Vieja volcano.

No fatalities or injuries have been reported

(Reporting by Borja Suarez, Marco Trujillo, Nacho Doce, Emma Pinedo, Clara-Laeila Laudette and Inti Landauro; Writing by Nathan Allen and Inti Landauro; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Families given one hour to evacuate as lava from La Palma volcano nears sea

By Borja Suarez and Marco Trujillo

LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Spain (Reuters) -Families rushed to retrieve belongings from their homes and escape the advancing lava on Tuesday, as sirens sounded and helicopters flew overhead in air filled with smoke from an erupting volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma.

One family of three in the town of Los Llanos de Aridane, threatened by the lava running to the coast, hurried to load a Toyota van with mattresses, a fridge, washing machine and bags stuffed with clothes.

Residents in Los Llanos de Aridane were given one hour to pack up and flee, a scene played out over La Palma in the Canary Islands since the volcano erupted on Sunday, forcing 6,000 people to evacuate. At least 166 houses have been destroyed so far.

Regional leader Angel Victor Torres said emergency services were powerless to stop the lava’s “inexorable” advance to the sea and that more homes, churches and agricultural land would be consumed.

While the total damage remains hard to predict, he said it would far exceed the 400 million euro threshold needed to qualify for European Union aid.

Authorities have warned that as it hits the sea, the lava could create a cloud of toxic gases and possibly explosions as the molten rock cools rapidly.

Marine authorities were keeping a two-nautical-mile zone offshore closed as a precaution “to prevent onlookers on boats and prevent the gases from affecting people,” the island council’s chief Mariano Hernandez told Cadena SER radio station.

He urged people to stay away. A road collapse partly hampered the evacuation on Monday.

The lava flow was initially expected to reach the shore on Monday, but it is now moving more slowly. More people had to be evacuated late on Monday and early on Tuesday after a new stream of lava started flowing from another crack on the slope of the Cumbre Viejo volcano.

“The lava on its path to the sea has been a bit capricious and has diverted from its course,” El Paso’s mayor Sergio Rodriguez told state broadcaster TVE.

The volcano started erupting on Sunday, shooting lava hundreds of meters into the air after La Palma, the most northwestern island in the Canaries archipelago, had been rocked by thousands of quakes in the prior days.

No fatalities or injuries have been reported, but drone footage captured two tongues of black lava cutting a devastating swathe through the landscape as they advanced down the volcano’s western flank towards the ocean.

A Reuters witness saw the flow of molten rock slowly engulf a house in the village of Los Campitos, igniting the interior and sending flames through the windows and onto the roof.

As of Tuesday morning, the lava had covered 103 hectares and destroyed 166 houses, according to data released by the European Union’s Copernicus Emergency Management service.

Emergency authorities have said residents should not fear for their safety if they follow recommendations.

(Reporting by Borja Suarez, Marco Trujillo, Nacho Doce, Inti Landauro, Catarina Demony, Nathan Allen; writing by Clara-Laeila Laudette; Editing by Ingrid Melander, Angus MacSwan and Janet Lawrence)

Congo to begin phased return of residents to volcano-hit city

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo will start a phased return of residents who fled Goma in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption that destroyed thousands of homes and threatened to overrun the city, the government said on Monday.

Less than a week after the initial eruption on May 22, which only just stopped short of the city limits, some 400,000 people scrambled to leave when the government warned underground tremors could cause a new eruption, or trigger the release of toxic gases.

The tremors have since subsided, and many people have returned to Goma. About 245,000 remain displaced in nearby towns and villages, according to the latest survey by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The government said it would provide buses and trucks beginning on Tuesday to help people return.

But Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde told journalists that sites on the outskirts of Goma that were destroyed by the eruption could no longer be inhabited.

“We must learn from the 2002 and 2021 eruptions so that our populations are never again so close to danger,” Lukonde said.

Mount Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, had last erupted in 2002, killing more 200 people and sending lava gushing through Goma. Last month’s eruption killed at least 31.

On Saturday, the government re-opened Goma’s airport, which is eastern Congo’s main hub for delivering aid to the strife-torn region.

People made homeless by the eruption would be temporarily rehoused and given assistance to rebuild, the government said in a statement.

(Reporting by Erikas Mwisi Kambale; writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Alex Richardson)