Already more than a hundred homes destroyed. The volcano that erupted on the island of La Palma (Canary Islands) continues to wreak havoc. Thousands of people had to flee. The lava continues its course, unstoppable. Another concern appears: the risky encounter between the lava and the sea.
Smoke and toxic gases
It is difficult to say when it will occur. It all depends on the speed of the lava flow. But sooner or later it will happen. Precautions are being taken. And they will extend the exclusion perimeter on the coast. What is the biggest danger? The chemical reaction.
When magma comes in contact with salt water there’s a reaction. It can generate explosions and emission of noxious gases. “Plumes of water vapour rise because much of the seawater vaporises. The temperature of the melt is more than 900°C, while the water is about 23°C”. Says José Mangas, professor of geology at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
“Water has chlorides, sulphates, carbonates, fluorine and iodine (among other things). Toxic gases are also going to be volatilized,” says the academic. It can cause skin, eye and respiratory tract irritation. On the other hand, the lava cools quickly due to contact with water. And then “the lava fractures. That can lead to the ejection of ballistic projectiles at relatively close range.
The gases that are generated in these two processes are pushed by the winds out to sea. They should disperse in a short time. A perimeter close to the affected area is enough to control the danger. “There should be no one around when that happens,” adds the expert.
Other dangers are the sudden collapse of coastal land and cliffs and explosions triggered by this collapse. Also the waves of boiling water that are generated around it.
While the situation is now under control, everything may change as the days go by. “We’re just getting started. These are the early stages of the eruption, there’s still a long way to go,” warns Mangas. But even though it’s just beginning, what has happened so far has been devastating.
“There are important material losses. There are about 200 houses destroyed, which can’t be recovered. The lava completely destroyed them. There are 200 families who have lost their homes,” he emphasizes. Connections on the island have already been cut off from north to south, as roads have been interrupted.
The lava continues its course. Every day, the images shock the world. We are close to the risky meeting of lava and sea, which we will all witness.