TODOQUE, Canary Islands (AP) – A wall of lava 12 meters (40 feet) high collapsed in a Spanish village on Wednesday as molten rock after a volcanic eruption swallowed up their homes, before what they could save The islanders scrambled to save him.
Still-spewing lava from Sunday’s eruption in northwest Africa’s Canary Islands slowly moved coast down hills, where Todok was the last village between molten rock and the Atlantic Ocean.
Experts said it could take days for the lava to travel the remaining 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) into the ocean, but officials and locals were taking no chances amid the unexpected seismic activity.
The residents lined up in the hope of saving some items so that they could be taken to the village. The lava was moving at about 120 meters (400 ft) per hour, with smoke coming from its leading edge as it destroyed everything it touched.
Javier Lopez said that his house has been in the path of lava for the past three decades. He and his relatives were staying at a friend’s house with some documents, photographs and basic belongings when they were evacuated on Monday.
“I’ve put my whole life in a van,” Lopez told the Associated Press as he waited his turn to try to recover the vehicle and other valuables he left behind.
“This will probably be the last time I see my house,” he said. “Or, in the best case scenario, the house will remain isolated from the lava and inaccessible for who knows how long.”
Firefighters, trying to save as many homes as possible from being hit by the lava, worked non-stop throughout the night to open a ditch to divert the lava flow.
Melissa Rodriguez, another Todok resident, was trying to stay positive and calm.
“It’s hard to think straight about what you want to save, but we’re only allowed for an hour and you don’t want to take longer because it would be taking time from others,” she said.
As lava moved towards the island’s more densely populated coast, 1,000 people were evacuated from Todok late Tuesday, bringing the total number of people evacuated on La Palma island to more than 6,800.
Officials say there are more threats to residents, including more earthquakes, possible new lava flows, toxic gases, volcanic ash and acid rain. Lava, whose temperature exceeds 1,000 °C (more than 1,800 F), can cause eruptions, trigger landslides and produce clouds of toxic gas when it hits the ocean.
As volcanic ash fell over a wide area, officials advised people to keep children inside as much as possible because of the difficulty in breathing.
The volcanic eruption and aftermath could last up to 84 days, the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute said, based on its calculations on the length of previous eruptions on the archipelago, which, like the latest eruption, were followed by massive lava flows and permanent seismic activity.
Tuesday night saw a sharp increase in the number of small eruptions that hurled rocks and ash into the air, it said.
The institute said rivers of lava have so far swallowed up about 320 buildings, most of them in rural areas and now spread over 154 hectares (380 acres). The lava has also destroyed banana trees, vineyards and other crops. The immediate evacuation has helped to avoid any casualties.
The volcano is also releasing 8,000 to 10,500 tons of sulfur dioxide – which also affects the lungs – every day, it said.
Life on the rest of La Palma, which is about 35 kilometers (22 mi) long and 20 kilometers (12 mi) wide at its widest point, has been largely unaffected, without stopping for previously scheduled holidays. Tourists are landing. Air traffic was normal.
The Canary Islands are a popular destination for European tourists due to their mild year-round climate.
Barry Hatton from Lisbon, Portugal contributed.