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The La Palma Volcano Eruption lasted 3 months, but its Disastrous Aftermath Remains

The effects of the La Palma volcano eruption are still felt up to this day.

Javier Moreno, a resident of La Palma, said, “It’s brutal. The affected area looks as if they erected the Berlin Wall, but made of black lava.” He shares the same plight together with the other 80,000 residents of the island. 

In the first half of the month, 2,000 residents who evacuated when the La Palma volcano eruption occurred were given clearance to come home. There are still around 5,000 residents who remain in the evacuation areas or temporary shelters.

A resident cleans up the ashes that cover her home.

However, what they went home to was a devastating sight to see. Layers and layers of ash covered their homes, patios, and plants. This is a consequence of the 200 million cubic meters of lava and ash produced during the La Palma volcano eruption.

Residents who have returned home face the same challenge every day. They do their best to clean up the ash, but when the next day comes, the ash is covering their properties again. The wind continues to blow the ash all over.  

The effects of the La Palma volcano eruption did not just affect residential areas. They also carried over to plantations, high banks, and even far beyond the island. Two newly formed peninsulas resulted from the flow of lava into the ocean. These were measured to be as big as 44 and 5 hectares. 

The marine ecosystem was also covered by ash and lava landslides, reaching depths of up to 400 meters. This creates negative consequences for marine life because of the components of the ash and lava that they get exposed to. These components are toxic and can alter the biological balance in the ecosystem.

The continuous efforts of residents to remove the ash that has accumulated have been effective. Much of the ash has been removed and transferred to a former quarry located in La Palma.

However, they are challenged by the red-hot lava that remains in the residential areas and vast areas of farmland. Ines Galindo, the head of the Canary Islands unit of Spain’s Geological and Mining Institute, stated that “they [red-hot lava] continue to store heat, with temperatures of more than 500 degrees in some parts.” 

The island has the option of waiting until the lava cools down. Once it does, infrastructure can be built on top of the cooled lava. This is possibly easier than handling the lava in its current state. However, citizens would have to wait for months for the lava to cool down. 

If residents and officials decide to do otherwise, they would need to break up the lava and remove it as they do. This process is more arduous, but it allows them to move forward with the rehabilitation process at a faster rate.

What can be Done with all the Ash and Lava from the La Palma Volcano Eruption?

Researchers and officials in La Palma are trying to find ways to make use of all the ash and lava produced by the volcano. 

Ines Galindo and other stakeholders are learning their lessons from other areas that have experienced the same. In Lanzarote, a volcano continuously erupted for six years, leaving the island with a lot of volcanic material. This occurred from the year 1730 to 1736. 

Despite the devastating consequences it had on estates, valleys, and residential homes, officials were able to get something out of the volcanic material. They found that the materials emitted by the volcano were suitable for planting vineyards. The island was then able to turn the volcanic material into something beneficial for them.

Researchers are now working to identify the properties of the ash from the La Palma volcano eruption. The team of Ines Galindo is trying to figure out if the ash can be used for the same purpose that it had in Lanzarote. A different team is looking into the use of it as a fertilizer.

Similarly, officials in the region are considering utilizing the volcanic material for the construction of homes, roads, and bridges. Javier Juvera, an engineer working at the Department of Public Works in the Canary Islands, shares that this option has been used way back in historical times when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Ash was one of the resources that contributed to the creation of basilicas and buildings. He says that “it’s not an original idea, we’re using the techniques that the Romans used.”

As such, the department is trying to compare the ash from the La Palma volcano eruption with that used by the Romans. When found to be comparable, the volcanic material can be used to help the island reconstruct the various infrastructures that have been destroyed. This can provide the island with quality material that can withstand stress from pressure, repeated use, and harsh environmental conditions.

Trying to make the most out of the volcanic material is advantageous for the island since more than 900 million euros’ worth of infrastructure has been damaged. The island will need as many resources as it can get in order to return to what life was like before the La Palma volcano eruption. 

However, the process of studying the volcanic material will not be quick. It can take months to conclude what the ash can be utilized for.

Javier Juvera remains optimistic that researchers can get something useful out of the volcanic material. They have years of experience in the field and have a grasp of the volcanic materials on the island. It wouldn’t be the first time that volcanic materials were used with cement in order to construct properties. This practice has been used for so long, even before the volcano erupted.

A Brief Background on the La Palma Volcano Eruption

La Palma volcano eruption

The volcano started erupting on September 19, 2021. 

Throughout the next 3 months, or 85 days and 8 hours to be exact, the activity of the volcano was continuous. Parts of the walls of the crater collapsed, intensive explosive activity occurred, and lava flowed into the ocean. 

On December 25, 2021, officials declared the end of the La Palma volcano eruption. Julio Perez, the regional security chief of the Canary Islands, released a statement that was welcomed happily by the citizens. “What I want to say today can be said with just four words: The eruption is over.” 

This was good news for citizens after constantly worrying about their own safety and the condition of their properties and homes.

La Palma volcano eruption
Areas in La Palma being ravaged by a lava flow.

The damage that the volcanic eruption caused was grave. It ruined 3,000 properties, covered 1,219 hectares of land with lava, and forced 7,000 people to evacuate from the island. 

One of the citizens shared that “we couldn’t save anything, none of the furniture, none of my paintings, it’s all under the lava now.” 

In response, the government promised to allocate 400 million euros for the rehabilitation of the island.

The La Palma volcano eruption is far from over. Even if volcanic activity has stopped, residents still have to face the aftermath of the three-month long disaster.

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