La Palma, home to about 85,000 people, is part of the volcanic Canary Islands, an archipelago off northwest Africa. The island is roughly 35 kilometers (22 miles) long and 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide at its broadest point. Lava from the eruption has devoured everything in its path, destroying nearly 600 buildings and 21 kilometers (13 miles) of roads on La Palma. The lava now covers 258 hectares (637 acres), mostly farmland, according to a European Union satellite monitoring agency.
Lava flowing from the volcano “Cumbre Viejo” in Spain’s Canary Island of La Palma picked up its pace on its way to the sea today Tuesday 28th, but scientists said it was impossible to estimate the time when the black-and-red stream of molten rock would reach the shore.
The authorities said the lava had moved on the island of to within 800 meters (875 yards) of the Atlantic Ocean as of Tuesday morning, nine days after the volcano’s eruption. When it eventually meets sea water, the lava could trigger explosions and the release of toxic gas. By the afternoon, officials said various factors dictated the unpredictable speed of the lava flow, including its departure from a path over an earlier flow that had hardened. The river of cooled lava had helped the moving flow slide along.
“We welcome the public administration’s speed in ensuring the safety of all those affected and caring for those with greatest vulnerability,” said a statement from the Catholic aid agency Caritas in the Tenerife Diocese a few days ago. “We are adding our own resources to agencies and institutions across the territory, sharing the commitment and solidarity with those who are suffering.”
Caritas said a special fund had been set up to help the evacuated and homeless and to provide family support and employment for those facing poverty and dispossession.
Meanwhile, the Tenerife Diocese, covering the islands of La Palma, Tenerife, La Gomera and El Hierro, arranged special Masses in its 312 parishes, and said Mary and St. Michael the Archangel had traditionally protected islanders “during times of epidemic and eruption.”
“We thank God for the technical human means which enabled us to anticipate this eruption and save our population,” the Caritas statement said. “Imploring God for an end to this volcanic crisis, we will also request comfort and hope for those who have lost their homes and livelihoods.”
Bishop Bernardo Álvarez Afonso of Tenerife expressed “closeness and solidarity” with La Palma residents, and urged prayers especially “for the sick, elderly and those with mobility problems.”
Spanish TV reported that at least 22,000 minor tremors had been detected on La Palma before the Sept. 19 eruption, which also triggered four substantial earthquakes.
It said more than 6,000 people had been evacuated by Sept. 22. Maritime officials established an exclusion zone of two nautical miles from La Palma’s densely populated west coast, amid fears the molten rock could release toxic gases when it reached the ocean.
Father Domingo Guerra Pérez, 79, said the lava flow, which seismologists estimated could continue for three months, had been “much more worrying and overwhelming” than previous Cumbre Vieja eruptions.
Father Antonio Hernández Felipe told Spain’s Alfa y Omega Catholic weekly that “bewilderment at the beauty of this manifestation of nature” had quickly turned to “tears and helplessness,” adding that he had hurriedly stripped precious objects from his church at Los Llanos de Aridane as the lava river approached. “We took statues of the Virgin Mary, paintings, benches, chalices, ornaments and altar cloths — everything we could rescue,” the priest told the newspaper. “These are humble, hardworking people — mostly farmers who’ve built homes and livelihoods here.”
Video captures moment the church collapses as lava consumes it:
God is our refuge
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
(from Psalm 46)