IMAGES of homes being swallowed by lava have a sensational impact on those watching from afar, but an unfolding human tragedy lies behind the headlines.
Although the scale of the devastation caused by the eruption on the island of La Palma is not yet clear, since it began on Sunday afternoon at just after 3pm, at least 5,500 people have been evacuated and more than 160 homes and 103 hectares have been destroyed.
Yurena, a La Palma resident, told Canarias Radio: “I will never again have my house, my neighborhood, my neighbors … It’s time to move on because we ‘palmeros’ are strong”.
Ángeles, a head teacher of a school on the island that has already been destroyed by lava, told RTVE how more than 50% of her students no longer have a home.
Evacuations continue and more than 10,000 people may ultimately have to evacuate the island after authorities warned that lava spilling into the sea could result in the release of toxic gas.
According to Canary island geologists responsible for managing the crisis (Pevolca) the lava spilling into the sea mixing with saltwater could produce “explosions and the emission of toxic gases’.
They fear that the dangerous mix could cause hydrochloric acid and small but deadly volcanic glass particles to fall, but it is still unclear if or when this could occur.
Among the towns most affected by the lava are El Paso, Tazacorte, Los Llanos and El Paraíso.
Local Fire Brigade Chief Germán Pérez spoke of his: “Sadness, anger and impotence at seeing so much material damage and knowing that we cannot do anything about it”.
Several important roads across the island have been blocked or destroyed, and the ability to travel across the island has been seriously impeded.
Guardia Civil officers have advised people not to leave their homes or drive, other than in the case of evacuation.
Evacuating residents have been instructed to turn off water, electricity and gas.
There are also thousands of animals that have been affected by the eruption.
The Animal Association of La Palma (Aanipal) have advised residents to transfer their animals to the El Paso and San Isidro areas of La Palma, where animal sanctuaries have been set up by local authorities.
They have also urged residents based outside of the danger zone to offer their homes as shelters.
No injuries or fatalities have been reported so far.