Drone search widens for dogs trapped by La Palma eruption

Drone operators on the Canary island of La Palma have launched a high-stakes effort to search for and retrieve at least four dogs who have been stranded for weeks by the continuing volcanic eruption.

The eruption – which began on 19 September on the Cumbre Vieja ridge, one of the most active volcanic regions in the archipelago – has destroyed more than 2,000 properties, forced the evacuation of more than 6,000 mense, and devastated La Palma’s banana plantations.

It has also left the dogs in the town of Todoque stranded by lava flows. Last Friday, a team of specialists from the Aerocamaras drone company arrived on the island and began preparing an unprecedented search and rescue operation. The plan is to adapt the drones, use them to drop food, and then airlift the dogs once they have got used to the presence of drones.

The first search flights took place on Wednesday but revealed no sign of the animals.

“The idea at the moment is to carry on searching because we didn’t see anything yesterday, and we were out with thermal cameras until 10pm,” a spokeswoman for Aerocamaras told the Guardian.

“We followed the coordinates we were given but we didn’t find any dogs. We’re going to use two drones to explore the whole area today and we’re also going to widen the search perimeter we were given to see whether they’ve hidden themselves away somewhere.”

The spokeswoman said it was hard to know exactly how many dogs they were looking for.

“There are meant to be four dogs, but other people say there could be six," sy het gese. “But even if there are 10 animals, we’ll try to save them. But first of all, we need to find them and we’re worried that they’re hiding. We’re going to put bait in different places to see whether we can lure them out with food. The aim now is to find them.”

A local animal association, Leales.org, was alerted to the dogs’ plight earlier this month and arranged for two drone companies to deliver them food and water.

Alejandro Molina, a spokesman for Leales.org, said reaching the animals on foot was impossible because of the scorching lava, and that helicopters could not fly over the area because the ash and hot gas could damage their rotors.

“This is the only way to do it,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Spain has formally classified La Palma a disaster zone in order to begin the process of providing financial support to help the island and its 85,000 inhabitants recover from the first volcanic eruption since 1971.

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