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La Palma volcano lava could cause explosion, release toxic gas when it hits sea

Canary Island lava flow is picking up its pace toward the shoreline; the eruption has so far destroyed 589 buildings and 21 kilometers of roads

  • Lava flows from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain in the early hours of September 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Saul Santos)
    Lava flows from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain in the early hours of September 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Saul Santos)
  • In this photo made available by Ume (Unidad Militar de Emergencias), Military Emergency Unit personal take gas reading measurements near a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, in the early hours of Sept. 28, 2021 (Luismi Ortiz/UME via AP)
    In this photo made available by Ume (Unidad Militar de Emergencias), Military Emergency Unit personal take gas reading measurements near a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, in the early hours of Sept. 28, 2021 (Luismi Ortiz/UME via AP)
  • Lava flows from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain on September 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Daniel Roca)
    Lava flows from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain on September 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Daniel Roca)
  • Lava flows from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain in the early hours of September 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Saul Santos)
    Lava flows from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain in the early hours of September 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Saul Santos)
  • In this September 26, 2021 satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. lava and ash from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain can be seen. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
    In this September 26, 2021 satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. lava and ash from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain can be seen. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
  • The Cumbre Vieja volcano spews lava, ash and smoke as seen from Los Llanos de Aridane on the Canary island of La Palma in September 25, 2021 (DESIREE MARTIN / AFP)
    The Cumbre Vieja volcano spews lava, ash and smoke as seen from Los Llanos de Aridane on the Canary island of La Palma in September 25, 2021 (DESIREE MARTIN / AFP)

LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Canary Islands — Lava flowing from an erupting volcano in Spain’s Canary Islands has picked up pace on its way to the sea and is now within about 800 meters (875 yards) of the shoreline, officials said Tuesday.

While one of two rivers of lava has slowed on La Palma, the other was hotter and more fluid and was bearing down on the small town of Todoque, where people have been evacuated from, the Canary Islands emergency volcano response department said.

Officials have for days been expecting the lava to reach the Atlantic Ocean, but the eruption has been erratic. After calming down on Monday, the volcano became more explosive again overnight.

When the molten rock eventually meets the seawater it could trigger explosions and the release of toxic gas, though authorities say they don’t expect the slow-moving lava to create large disruption on the coast.

La Palma, home to about 85,000, is part of the volcanic Canary Islands, an archipelago off northwest Africa. The island is roughly 35 kilometers (roughly 22 miles) long and 20 kilometers (roughly 12 miles) wide at its broadest point.

Lava from the eruption, which began on September 19, has destroyed 589 buildings and 21 kilometers of roads on La Palma. The lava now covers 258 hectares (637 acres), mostly farmland, according to a European Union satellite monitoring agency.

A woman takes a selfie as lava flows from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain on September 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Daniel Roca)

No fatalities or serious injuries have been reported since the volcano’s eruption, thanks to prompt evacuations.

The volcano has so far spewed out more than 46 million cubic meters (1.6 billion cubic feet) of molten rock, according to the Canary Island Volcanology Institute.

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