First a cloud of ash, then the collapse.
A church in La Palma, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, has crumbled after being hit by lava flows from a volcano that has been erupting for more than a week, destroying homes, roads and schools, and displacing thousands of people.
Videos show a billowing white cloud moving with a rumble toward the church in the village of Todoque on Sunday afternoon before the gray-and-white bell tower collapses, leaving only a thick wall of ash visible in its wake.
A similar fate befell nearby houses as lava engulfed them, and fires sent plumes of smoke into the air. They were among the latest to be destroyed by a massive eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, which began Sept. 19 and has upended life on part of the northeast Atlantic island and generated intense social media interest.
Lava from the eruption has covered some 570 acres of land and generated around 3,700 acres worth of ash fall, as captured by Copernicus, the European Union’s satellite monitoring service. It has destroyed more than 500 buildings and nearly 12 miles of roads, Copernicus Emergency Management Services said, and displaced at least 6,000 people.
New vents opened on the volcano Friday, and infrared video showed red-hot lava spewing into the air.
Eight days after it began, the eruption appears to be weakening — but it’s not over yet.
“The volcano of La Palma has entered in a phase of lower activity,” the Institute of Geosciences, based in Madrid, wrote in a tweet. “Let’s see how it evolves in the coming hours.”
Involcan, the Canary Islands’ volcanology institute, published graphs Monday morning showing a steep drop in seismic activity in the area. The institute published images showing a column of volcanic ash emerging from the volcano in a otherwise blue sky two hours later.
Experts were watching the swarm of quakes that came with the volcanic eruption just below the island’s center as the temblors moved south, the AP reported.
Island authorities warned residents in four neighborhoods to remain indoors as lava rushed toward the sea. As it headed down the steep slope towards the sea, the lava flow picked up speed. Reuters drone footage showed a torrent of red lava coming down from the crater. This was close to where Reuters had taken it. By early Monday, the lava was around 800 meters (about a half mile) from the water, according to AP.
Maria Jose Blanco, director of the National Geographic Institute in the Canary Islands, said at a news conference Monday afternoon that there are two ongoing lava flows. She said that the speed of the southern one was very slow, and the north-moving one had forked into two around the mountain.
The flow heading south of the mountain of Todoque had slowed as of Monday afternoon, Miguel Angel Morcuende, technical director of Involcan, told reporters.
In a Facebook post, Involcan warned that a thermal shock occurs when the lava, which can be hotter than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, meets seawater — generating plumes of water vapor filled with hydrochloric acid and tiny particles of volcanic glass. Inhaling steam from the columns can cause irritation to the eyes, skin and respiratory system and may lead to breathing problems. According to Involcan, the hazard will likely remain local.
Officials have also asked residents of the island to avoid outdoor activities as the volcano erupts, and said those removing volcanic ash should wear face masks and protective glasses.
La Palma, part of the Spanish archipelago off northwest Africa, is roughly 22 miles long and 12 miles wide at its broadest point. Some 85,000 people live on the island.
The eruption on Sept. 19 prompted residents to flee their homes and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to cancel his trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. The volcano, which last erupted in 1971, had shown signs of activity in the days leading up to the eruption, putting locals on high alert. More than 22,000 tremors were detected in one week around the active volcanic region, according to authorities.
No fatalities or serious injuries have been reported in the week-long event. According to the AP, lava had destroyed the irrigation infrastructure of La Palma’s banana plants, which account for nearly one third of island’s employment.
Government spokesperson Julio Perez said Monday that authorities are assessing the lava flow to prepare for reconstruction efforts.
“Security is our first goal and has been for the last 15 days,” he said. “The second is to prepare for rebuilding.”
Sofia Diogo Mateus in Berlin contributed to this report.