Red hot lava from a volcano that devastated the Spanish island of La Palma reached the Atlantic Ocean late on Tuesday evening, nine days after it started to flow down the mountain, wrecking buildings and destroying crops.
Big clouds of white steam billowed up from the Playa Nueva area as the lava made contact with the ocean, according to Reuters images. Photographs shared on social media showed the lava piling up near a cliff.
A venerable Catholic Church on the Canary Islands was destroyed earlier this week as lava continued to flow down the sides of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, engulfing everything in its path.
After a new lava vent opened up over the weekend and plumes of molten rock began spurting up with greater vengeance, new fears surfaced over the eventual extent of the damage to the island and the threats to human life.
The airport has now been closed as workers operate heavy machinery to try to clear the runways of ash and other debris from the volcano.
Horrified onlookers watched as the bell tower of the Saint Pius X Church in Llanos de Ariadne came crashing down on Sunday afternoon after the church had been able to survive an earlier lava flow that had stopped short of the structure.
Canary Islands Volcano erupting for first time in fifty years
Firefighters, who had hoped to somehow divert the new lava flow away from the church, were bitterly disappointed when it became yet another victim of the volcano, which began erupting on Sunday, September 19.
The last time Cumbre Vieja had erupted was back in 1971.
Local press reports say that the lava, which had raised hopes after it stopped flowing nearby, resumed its march toward the sea, which lies approximately a mile and a quarter away.
As of today, thousands of residents of the island of La Palma have been evacuated. While there has been tremendous amounts of property damage, rising into the hundreds of millions of euros, there has been no loss of human life to this point.
The historic treasures of the St. Pius X Church were carefully removed several days ago under the care of its pastor, Father Alberto Hernández. With the help of workers, he removed everything possible from the church, including statues, paintings, crucifixes, and the tabernacle on the altar.
Fr. Hernández, speaking to the Spanish Catholic weekly Alfa & Omega, admitted that while the destruction continues to unfold on the island, he can only “weep with those who weep”.
“Faith is fundamental”
Referring to the people who have been most affected by the explosion, he stated that they were “humble, simple, hard-working people, including farmers and some officials. People who had built their own houses and who made their living from the land. Let us trust that the authorities will respond and aid will arrive.”
The priest added that some people are resigned to the destruction, saying that they are “are people of faith,” noting “when I called the neighbor closest to the volcano – 200 meters (650 feet) – to check on him, he told me: ‘The house will be lost, but we’re alive and it’s a miracle we’re alive.’ Faith, the pastor said, is fundamental.”
San Miguel de La Palma, commonly referred to as La Palma, is the most north-westerly island of the Canary Islands, which belong to Spain. La Palma has an area of 708 square kilometers (273 sq miles), making it the fifth largest of the eight main Canary Islands. The total population at the end of 2020 was 85,840, of whom 15,716 live in the capital, Santa Cruz de La Palma and about 20,467 live in Los Llanos de Aridane.
Its highest mountain is the Roque de los Muchachos, at 2,423 meters (7,949 feet), being second among the peaks of the Canaries only to the peaks of the Teide massif on Tenerife.
In 1815, the German geologist Leopold von Buch visited the Canary Islands. It was as a result of his visit to Tenerife, where he visited the Las Cañadas caldera, and then later to La Palma, where he visited the Taburiente caldera, that the Spanish word for cauldron or large cooking pot – “caldera” – was introduced into the geological vocabulary.
In the center of the island is the Caldera de Taburiente National Park, which is one of four national parks in the Canary Islands. The volcano rises almost 7 km (4 miles) above the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. There is road access from sea level to the summit at 2,426 meters (7,959 feet), which is marked by an outcrop of rocks called Los Muchachos (“The Lads”).
This is the site of the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, one of the world’s premier astronomical observatories.
La Palma’s geography is of course a result of the volcanic formation of the island.
The northern part of La Palma is dominated by the Caldera de Taburiente, with a width of 9 km (6 miles) and a depth of 1,500 meters (4,921 feet). It is surrounded by a ring of mountains ranging from 1,600 meters (5,249 feet) to 2,400 meters (7,874 feet) in height.
On its northern side are the exposed remains of the original seamount. Only the deep Barranco de las Angustias (“Ravine of Anxiety”) leads into the inner area of the caldera, which is a national park. It can be reached only by foot.
The outer slopes are cut by numerous gorges which run from an altitude of 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) all the way down to the ocean.
From the Caldera de Taburiente to the south runs the ridge called Cumbre Nueva (‘New Ridge’, which despite its name is older than the Cumbre Vieja, or Old Ridge, which is now volcanically active.
This consists of a volcanic ridge formed by numerous volcanic cones built of lava and scoria. Beyond Punta de Fuencaliente at the southern tip of the island, the Cumbre Vieja continues in a southerly direction as a submarine volcano.