Spain declares Canary Islands volcano eruption officially over

The Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on September 19, spewing rivers of molten rock and sending ash plume containing toxic gases into the air PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU AFP
The Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on September 19, spewing rivers of molten rock and sending ash plume containing toxic gases into the air PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU AFP

The eruption of a volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma that destroyed hundreds of homes and large swathes of farmland has ended, officials said Saturday over three months after it began.

The announcement follows 10 days of low-level activity from the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the tiny isle, part of the Canary Islands which lie off Africa’s northwest coast.

No injuries or deaths have been directly linked to the eruption, which began on September 19, spewing rivers of molten rock and sending ash plumes containing toxic gases into the air.

But it destroyed 1,345 homes, mainly on the western side of La Palma, as well as schools, churches, health centers and farm irrigation infrastructure.

Dramatic footage from the first days of the eruption has been repeatedly aired on Spanish TV, showing a cloud of dense smoke engulfing the bell tower of a church before it collapsed.

The slow-moving lava has covered 1,250 hectares (about 3,100 acres) of land as it made its way to the Atlantic, much of it banana plantations, La Palma’s main livelihood along with tourism.

The eruption, which was accompanied by frequent earthquakes, is the first in La Palma since 1971 and the longest on record on the island of around 83,000 people.

About 7,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, with many given just minutes to pack their belongings.

The damage from the eruption could exceed 900 million euros (1.0 billion U.S. dollars), according to regional officials.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who visited La Palma several times during the eruption and has pledged to help La Palma rebuild after the disaster, described the news as “the best Christmas present.”

“We will continue working together, all the institutions, to relaunch the wonderful island of La Palma and repair the damage caused,” Sanchez tweeted on Saturday.

His government has so far promised 225 million euros in aid funding to recovery efforts, including buying temporary housing and providing financial assistance to people who lost their jobs.

Experts have warned it will take several years to clean up the land destroyed by the lava and remove huge amounts of ash from buildings and roads.

Soldiers from an emergency unit have been removing ash from rooftops throughout the eruption to prevent buildings from collapsing.

The volcano will continue to release toxic gases for a long spell, which could pose a threat to the population. The lava will also take a long time to cool to a safe level.

“The end of the eruption doesn’t meant to say there’s no longer any danger,” said Julio Perez, a director of the Canary emergency volcanic response.

“The risks and dangers persist,” he told a news conference.