Article by Guido Cocconi
After four months of continuous eruption, La Palma’s volcano in the Spanish Canary islands fell silent on December 13, leaving a trail of lava to the shores that destroyed buildings, farms, roads and engulfed the entire town of Todoque.
According to Reuters, about 3000 buildings were destroyed and 7000 residents were forced to leave their homes. Lava and ash-fall severely damaged banana farms, vineyards, irrigation systems and blocked roads. The Canarian authorities estimated 900 million euros in damages to properties and infrastructure.
“We experienced a lot of fear and anguish because of the tremors, the gases and the ash that fell by tons daily. Our greatest fear was that another crater mouth would come out near us!” told Maria Gomez to 9to5, an employee at a visitor center in Fuencaliente, 10km south from the crater.
The Spanish government has promised to provide a total of 400 million euros in recovery fund. The aid will support the local population’s housing, tax reduction and employment programs. Farmers also received some compensation for the lost crops and new roads and water infrastructure will be created.
Authorities are now cleaning the roads and restoring the damaged infrastructures, they have allowed residents to return to clean up the high piles of black ash that cover their homes.
Since the eruption began we have not stopped working to reduce the damage, all our 660 farmers on the island are affected to a greater or lesser extent by the volcano.Said a spokesperson for Europlatano, member of the banana farmers association (ASPROCAN).
Ash-fall has affected the entire island, fruit plantations and greenhouses have been severely damaged by it. Many irrigations systems broke during the eruption and banana trees, the main cultivation in the area, need a large amount of water daily to grow fruits. Europlatano’s spokesperson said it was “the worst months in the history of the sector, we saw every day how it was destroying not only the homes of friends and colleagues, but also our livelihood”.
All efforts are directed to restoring the surviving crops, the greenhouses knocked down by the ash-fall are being removed and where possible the first replantings have begun. “We don’t expect to start seeing recovery until the middle of next year, it takes about a year for bananas to bear fruit again” said Europlatano’s spokesperson to 9to5.
After a severe drought, the ash-fall has left the southern vineyards in a state of agony too. La Palma’s wines have a peculiar taste and and last year the brand “Cumbre Vieja“, the volcano’s name, sold out quickly as the eruption began last September, as Reuters reported, yet without new water irrigation networks the island’s jewel is at risk of disappearing.
Surveillance and monitoring have been essential so that the authorities could order preventive measures before the start of the eruption.Canary island’s volcanological institute (INVOLCAN) spokesperson and volcanologist David Calvo said to 9to5.
Years ago, scientists from the INVOLCAN and the National Geographical institute (IGN) had picked up anomalous signals of magma rising to the surface from deep. Authorities were informed so that they could have a clear vision of what was happening deep in the volcano. Some days before the eruption a seismic swarm occurred and “the earthquakes began to show a clear progression [of magma] to the surface and the deformation [of the ground] showed clear signs that an eruption was possible in the short term” said David (INVOLCAN) to 9to5.
Without scientist’s constant surveillance the death toll could have been much worse. When the eruption began, authorities were prepared and safely evacuated thousands of residents and no deaths or injuries directly affected by the eruption were reported. To this day only one person has died, after the roof he was sweeping the ash off collapsed because of weight.
This is an unprecedented opportunity to test and to improve models of magma storage, ascent, and movement.Dr. Andreas Klügel, Petrologist at the University of Bremen.
Along the surveillance work scientists were also studying the volcano, collecting data and rock samples of the lava. The eruption event was the first on the islands to be fully monitored with modern instruments. German Petrologist Andreas Klügel is studying the samples, these will provide means to answer at what depth the magma was stored and what process occurred from its rising to the surface.
“This will improve our understanding of these volcanoes, and facilitate the interpretation of future indicators of volcanic unrest” said Andreas Klügel to 9to5.
Vulcanologists are working every day on the new craters to conduct research and surveillance, it’s “our second home” says David Calvo to 9to5 “we know almost every meter of it”.
Many of them show degassing and glowing lava can still be seen, temperatures can sometimes reach 800 degrees celsius. “The entire area is littered with volcanic bombs and pine trees shattered by the violence of the eruption. It is a landscape dominated by black and yellow” said volcanologist David Calvo, INVOLCAN’s spokesperson.
Head photo copyright: INVOLCAN, Cumbre Vieja’s erupting in the Island of La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain.