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Cumbre Vieja Volcano: reflecting on La Palma’s largest natural disaster two years later

On September 19, 2021, at 3:10 p.m., after up to 25,000 small earthquakes over the course of a week, the volcanic eruption began, burying more than 1,000 houses and necessitating the evacuation of 10,000 people in the Aridane Valley.

On September 19, 2021, at 15:10 local time, La Palma experienced a seismic shock that marked the beginning of a volcanic eruption that would last for 85 consecutive days. This eruption, occurring two years ago, continues to have profound consequences for thousands of families who lost their homes and cherished memories, all of which were buried beneath the unforgiving lava. Many of these affected individuals have struggled to return to any sense of normalcy, and the scars left by this tragic event may never fully heal.

The eruption was preceded by a series of warning signs, including more than 25,000 small earthquakes over an eight-day period. These seismic tremors rattled the island and heightened anxiety among its residents. Even the scientists monitoring the volcano couldn’t escape the palpable uncertainty, as they warned that an “abrupt change” could occur at any moment.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this eruption was the historic volume of gases it emitted, notably sulphur dioxide. The volcano spewed between 16,000 and 32,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide per day, a staggering amount that, according to calculations by Involcan and the University of Manchester, equaled the entire annual emissions of 28 European Union countries in 2019 within just 59 days. Moreover, the volcano displayed a pulsating behavior, with fluctuations in its activity that were stronger than expected.

The eruption finally came to a halt after 85 days, resulting in the formation of a 1,122-meter-high volcano. However, even today, there are displaced families who have not yet secured permanent housing or received the promised €30,000 in aid from the Canary Islands government. Some communities, such as Puerto Naos and La Bombilla, remain closed due to lingering toxic fumes, further complicating the recovery process.

Despite the challenges, there is some positive news. The LP-2 road from Las Manchas to Tazacorte has been reopened to traffic. This achievement required extensive efforts to navigate the hardened lava that engulfed houses and banana plantations. Nonetheless, many Palmeros remain without homes and jobs, grappling with the aftermath of the eruption.

Cumbre Vieja Volcano: Reflecting on La Palma's Largest Natural Tragedy Two Years Later.


Residents who were directly impacted by the volcano’s fury have played a role in shaping the response to this crisis. They have actively participated in drafting the eighth version of the Decree Law on housing response for those affected by the eruption. They are hopeful that this legislation, which has evolved significantly from its initial versions, will soon be finalized with minimal alterations.

The current version addresses various scenarios and provides options for affected individuals, including land exchanges, returning to their original sites when conditions allow, selling affected land to individuals or private companies, and retaining temporary housing in exchange for their land. Additionally, there is an emphasis on creating an entity or consortium that includes the affected residents and empowers them to have a say in decisions related to the island’s recovery.

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