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A Week After A Volcanic Eruption, A Spanish Island Faces A New Threat: Toxic Gas

Lava from a volcano reaches the sea on the island of La Palma, Spain, in the early hours of Wednesday, prompting concerns about toxic gas.
Saul Santos
Lava from a volcano reaches the sea on the island of La Palma, Spain, in the early hours of Wednesday, prompting concerns about toxic gas.

Officials of La Palma in the Canary Islands directed residents to seal off their doors and windows to block toxic gas created when volcanic lava spills into the sea.

Residents on the western side of the Spanish island were told to use tape and wet towels to keep out the potentially dangerous gases. Experts reported that when the molten lava pours into the Atlantic Ocean, the two can combine to produce clouds of dangerous gases. They urged residents in the area to take shelter if outside nearby.

The volcanic eruption began in the island's Cumbre Vieja national park on Sep. 19, sending molten rock across the island and quickly forcing more than 6,000 people to evacuate. Lava flow has destroyed about 470 acres on the island, but no injuries have been reported.

The EU program Copernicus used satellite imaging to survey the destruction.

Spain's President Pedro Sánchez traveled to the island on Sept. 19 to view the eruption firsthand. He praised emergency workers and residents for their quick response and emphasized Spain's commitment to the island's recovery.

"All of Spain is with La Palma today," he said.

Sánchez returned later that week to announce the activation of a plan to begin coordinating reconstruction. Spain classified the island as an emergency zone as well, a designation that will provide the island with immediate aid for housing, necessities, maintenance and other aspects of the island infrastructure that was damaged.

"The power of science has allowed us to save lives on La Palma and the power of the State will allow us to rebuild the daily lives of the inhabitants of this marvelous island," Sánchez said.

La Palma is one of the Canary Islands' most volcanically active islands. The last major eruption the volcano chain saw took place in 1971.

For information in Spanish on the eruption, click here.

This story originally published in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nell Clark is an editor at Morning Edition and a writer for NPR's Live Blog. She pitches stories, edits interviews and reports breaking news. She started in radio at campus station WVFS at Florida State University, then covered climate change and the aftermath of Hurricane Michael for WFSU in Tallahassee, Fla. She joined NPR in 2019 as an intern at Weekend All Things Considered. She is proud to be a member of NPR's Peer-to-Peer Trauma Support Team, a network of staff trained to support colleagues dealing with trauma at work. Before NPR, she worked as a counselor at a sailing summer camp and as a researcher in a deep-sea genetics lab.

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