With no sign of eruption’s end, ash blankets La Palma island

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LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Canary Islands — A volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma that has been erupting for six weeks spewed greater quantities of ash from its main mouth Sunday, a day after producing its strongest earthquake to date.

Lava flows descending toward the Atlantic Ocean from a volcanic ridge have covered 2,400 acres of land since the eruption began on Sept. 19, data from the European Union’s satellite monitoring service, showed. On the way down the slope, the molten rock has destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and forced the evacuation of over 7,000 people.

But authorities in the Canary Islands, of which La Palma is part, have reported no injuries caused by contact with lava or from inhaling the toxic gases that often accompany the volcanic activity.

Experts said that predicting when the eruption will end is difficult because lava, ash and gases emerging to the surface are a reflection of complex geological activity happening deep down the earth and far from the reach of currently available technology.

Ash cover the graves at the La Palma cemetery as volcano continues to erupt on this Canary island, Spain, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. An erupting volcano in the Spanish island of La Palma
Ash cover the graves at the La Palma cemetery as a volcano continues to erupt on the island of La Palma.
AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
Cumbre Vieja volcano,
Experts said that predicting when the eruption will end is difficult.
LUISMI ORTIZ/UME/AFP via Getty Images

The Canary Islands, in particular, “are closely connected to thermal anomalies that go all the way to the core of the earth,” said Cornell University geochemist Esteban Gazel, who has been collecting samples from the Cumbre Vieja volcano.

“It’s like a patient. You can monitor how it evolves, but saying exactly when it will die is extremely difficult,” Gazel said. “It’s a process that is connected to so many other dimensions of the inside of the planet.”

Signs monitored by scientists —soil deformation, sulfur dioxide emissions and seismic activity— remained robust in Cumbre Vieja. The Spanish Geographic Institute, or IGN, said that a magnitude 5 quake in the early hours of Saturday was not just felt on La Palma, but also in La Gomera, a neighboring island on the western end of the Canary Islands archipelago.

IGN said the ash column towering above the volcano reached an altitude of 15,000 feet on Sunday before heavier wind scattered it. Many nearby towns and a telescope base further north that sits on a mountain at 7,800 feet above sea level were covered in a thick layer of ash.

The Cumbre Vieja volcano spews lava and smoke while it continues to erupt,
The Cumbre Vieja volcano spews lava and smoke while it continues to erupt.
REUTERS/Borja Suarez

The eruption has also turned the island into a tourist attraction, especially as many Spaniards prepared to mark All Saints Day, a Catholic festivity that honors the dead, on Monday.

Local authorities said some 10,000 visitors were expected over the long weekend and 90% of the accommodations on La Palma were fully booked. A shuttle bus service for tourists wanting a glimpse of the volcano was established to keep private cars off the main roads so emergency services could work undisturbed.

A house is covered by ash from a volcano as it continues to erupt on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain
The lava flows have .forced the evacuation of over 7,000 people.
AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
Several ash-covered tombs from the Cumbre Vieja volcano are seen in the cemetery of Los Llanos de Aridan on the Canary Island of La Palma
Several ash-covered graves on the Canary Island of La Palma.
REUTERS/Borja Suarez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A house is covered by ash from a volcano as it continues to erupt on the Canary island of La Palma.
A house is covered by ash from a volcano as it continues to erupt on La Palma.
AP Photo/Emilio Morenattii

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