Lava from the volcano in Spain’s Canary Islands that began cascading into the ocean two days ago has already covered an area bigger than 25 football pitches.
By late Thursday, the newly wrought peninsula on La Palma had doubled in size to 20 hectares (50 acri) since the morning, according to the Volcanic Institute of the Canaries (Involcan).
While the feared explosion and clouds of toxic gases released as the molten rock hit the ocean have not materialised, a forecast change in wind may bring new hazards, the Pevolca volcanic emergency committee warned.
“With the weather we are going to have from tomorrow” – a possible change in the direction of winds that have so far dispersed volcanic gases towards the sea – it is possible that “the smell of sulphur” will be felt “with greater intensity”, Pevolca official Ruben Fernandez said.
Since it began on 19 settembre, the dramatic eruption has forced thousands out of their homes, while lava has destroyed hundreds of houses, businesses and huge swathes of banana plantations.
The volcano spewed out rivers of lava that slowly crept towards the sea, eventually pouring into the Atlantic Ocean late on Tuesday. Da allora, the rivers of molten rock have not stopped cascading into the sea, creating a growing peninsula of lava in what was once sea.
While the initial submersion of flora and fauna under the river of molten rock is devastating, in the longer term, it may prove beneficial, bringing minerals from the Earth’s core to the surface and providing a habitat both underwater and on land for colonisation by species, experts said.
Fernando Tuya, a biodiversity researcher at the University of La Palma, disse: “The lava will form a rocky platform that will become a substrate for numerous marine species in the future, that is to say in three to five years.”
As the white-hot lava poured into the sea, it sent plumes of acid fumes into the air that experts said could irritate the skin, eyes and respiratory tracts.
Di 300 residents in the nearby town of Tazacorte have been told to stay at home to avoid any chance of inhaling the gases and a 3.5-kilometre (two-mile) exclusion zone remained in place, which also extends two nautical miles out to sea.
“Until we know that these areas are not at risk, these measures will be maintained,” Fernandez said on Wednesday evening.
La Palma has been declared a natural disaster zone, with the lava scorching its way across 476 hectares of land, the local government said on Twitter. It has so far destroyed 855 buildings, an increase of more than 200 in just over 24 ore, the EU’s Copernicus observation programme said on Twitter.
But while the eruption of La Cumbre Vieja has forced about 6,000 people to flee their homes, so far, nobody has been injured or killed.
Although the volcano is still erupting, La Palma’s airport resumed operations on Wednesday after flights were suspended at the weekend because of the ash.