La Palma firefighters dig channels in desperate bid to save church from lava

·2-min read
Crucifixes of Jesus Christ lie in the back of a truck after being saved from the San Pio X church in El Paso
Crucifixes of Jesus Christ lie in the back of a truck after being saved from the San Pio X church in El Paso

Firefighters on La Palma are frantically digging a channel to redirect a river of lava in a last-ditch battle to salvage as much as they can of a town destined to be flattened by molten rock flowing downhill from the Spanish island’s Cumbre Vieja volcano.

Rescue workers on Tuesday night began to use diggers and heavy machinery to create a channel they hope will encourage the lava flow along, creating the least destructive path possible as it passes through the town of Todoque en route to the sea around one mile away.

The lava has already wrecked homes, farms and a school further uphill.

The slowing of the lava, which was calculated to be moving at 700 metres per hour but now appears to be advancing at around 100 metres per hour, has offered hope that some of the hundreds of homes remaining in its path and Todoque’s church may still be saved.

The Cumbre Vieja volcano began to erupt in Montana Rajada in the municipality of El Paso on 19 September
The Cumbre Vieja volcano began to erupt in Montana Rajada in the municipality of El Paso on 19 September

“We are trying to channel the lava into a ravine that runs to the side of the church,” said a member of the Gran Canaria island’s firefighting service, sent to La Palma to help cope with the volcano crisis.

“We know it’s very difficult but we’re going to give it a go. There is no harm in trying,” he added.

The operation will deepen an existing ravine to channel a greater volume of the lava, narrowing the flow’s destructive path. Some buildings are being sacrificed to make the passage smoother. On Wednesday, firefighters said there were some early signs that their plan was working.

 Experts say the volcanic eruption and its aftermath on a Spanish island could last for up to 84 days
Experts say the volcanic eruption and its aftermath on a Spanish island could last for up to 84 days

In the 24 hours until Wednesday morning, the area covered by lava had increased by 50 per cent to 154 hectares after the volcano erupted on Sunday. The number of buildings buried doubled from the previous day to 320, according to data from the European Commission’s Copernicus Earth observation satellite system.

Medical experts and meteorologists warned that changing weather conditions were causing a greater danger of health problems from sulphur dioxide clouds, with concentrations measured in Tenerife 400 times usual levels.

lava from a volcano eruption flows destroying houses on the island of La Palma
lava from a volcano eruption flows destroying houses on the island of La Palma

The wind direction has changed from the north-easterly, which had assisted in blowing gases and ash away from the main Canary Islands populations, to a westerly direction that will send ash across the rest of La Palma and potentially dangerous gas clouds as far as North Africa and north into the Spanish mainland.

Involcan, the Canary Islands' volcanology institute, has calculated that the eruption will last for between 24 and 84 days.

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