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Living through an active volcanic eruption on La Palma
In the five weeks since the eruption began, lava from Cumbre Vieja has covered more than 850 hectares.
Banana farmer Jose Alvaro Leon Diaz rests with his dogs at the end of a day spent trying to salvage his crop from the ashfall. 'When we try to sell them it looks like the bananas have been sanded down. Inside it’s the same, it’s tasty. But on the outside, to the eye, it doesn't sell.' [Alexander Lerche/Al Jazeera]
By Alexander Lerche
24 Oct 2021
El Paso, La Palma – The volcanic eruption on La Palma has severely disrupted normal life on the idyllic Spanish island.
Authorities have evacuated nearly 8,000 people, placing them inside hotels and empty apartment buildings, and warn many more may be displaced in the coming weeks.
In the five weeks since the eruption began, lava flowing from Cumbre Vieja has reached more than 850 hectares (2,100 acres) of farmland and residential areas.
More than 2,100 homes and farms have been affected or destroyed and vital irrigation systems cut off.
Every day, fresh magma creeps onward to new areas.
“I don’t feel good. I don’t want to work or eat. I don’t want to do anything,” said banana farmer Jose Alvaro Leon Diaz while staring at the billowing volcanic plume from the edge of his plantation.
“But this is the situation we’re now living in, and we have to continue. All I can do now is pray that the lava doesn’t come onto my farm and we’re able to save some of our crops.”
Cumbre’s Vieja’s thick smoky plume rises 2.4km (1.5 miles) into the troposphere and is depositing thousands of tonnes of superfine black ash and glassy pumice all across the island.
This material has covered the island’s twisty mountain roads, congested drainage systems, and found its way inside homes and vehicles.
The disruption is also compounded by the near-daily seismic events shaking the island due to the highly pressurised magma and fluids churning deep within the volcano’s structure.
For the people living on La Palma, the situation has become a surrealistic new normal.
Less reliant on tourists than nearby Tenerife and Gran Canaria, La Palma's economy is driven by bananas, avocados and several varieties of Listan grapes. In a normal year, banana farmer Alvaro could expect to harvest more than 13 tonnes of the island’s bananas. But the usual buyers are rejecting crops due to minor aesthetic changes caused by the ash. [Alexander Lerche/Al Jazeera]
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Work to clear the island’s narrow mountain roads starts just before sunrise. The ash significantly reduces traction on the roads, making driving dangerous in an already challenging environment. [Alexander Lerche/Al Jazeera]
Retirees in the mountain town of El Paso sit outside the district’s coronavirus vaccination centre waiting for the authorities to clear the day’s ashfall. [Alexander Lerche/Al Jazeera]
A man wearing a full body suit with facemask and goggles heads home with his shopping from the nearby supermarket. [Alexander Lerche/Al Jazeera]
Molten lava piles up against houses on the outskirts of La Laguna. [Alexander Lerche/Al Jazeera]
Cumbre Vieja’s cone emits thousands of tonnes of ash, smoke and rock into the air. The surrounding areas are left at the mercy of the changing wind and a change in direction can force new evacuations and road closures. [Alexander Lerche/Al Jazeera]
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Master Sergeant Jose Antonio Vega of the Guardia Civil carries his air quality detectors at the exclusion zone perimeter. 'The behaviour of toxic gas is very erratic. People see pictures of scientists or ourselves near the cone and think a face mask will protect them, but a mass of dangerous gas can be concentrated and quickly make them pass out.' [Alexander Lerche/Al Jazeera]
Evacuee Micheala Nodzak watches the molten lava flowing from Cumbre Vieja. 'I don’t know what else to do. I came here to watch and hope my home is spared so I can go back.' [Alexander Lerche/Al Jazeera]
Spain’s Minister for Science and Innovation, Diana Morant [second from right], meets ground teams near El Paso. Morant says more than 100 scientists across several geological disciplines are working round the clock to process data gathered from the volcano. [Alexander Lerche/Al Jazeera]
Manuel Pino stands by his electronics store after clearing the overnight ash. 'It’s relentless,' he said. 'Every day we’re cleaning ash. It's everywhere, and we can’t let our products get dirty. It stops people wanting to go outside and come to our shops.' [Alexander Lerche/Al Jazeera]
At night, Cumbre Vieja transforms from a smoky mountain into a glowing mass of erupting molten lava. [Alexander Lerche/Al Jazeera]
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