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Jaw-dropping photos show homes buried in ash from La Palma volcano

AccuWeather logo AccuWeather 12/3/2021 Zachary Rosenthal

The Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma is now in its 10th week of destructive eruptions, and experts say there is no sign that it will slow down anytime soon. The volcano has left neighborhoods enveloped in a sea of ash, and its persistent lava flows have bulldozed entire properties.

The volcano went through an "intense" period of activity on Wednesday following a 30-hour lull, Euronews reported. More than 341 earthquakes were reported by the National Geographic Institute of Spain (IGN) during a 24-hour period this week, The Associated Press reported.

The Canary Islands, a Spanish territory, are no stranger to volcanic activity, with eruptions tending to occur once or twice every generation, according to reporting from the AP. However, the length of this eruption is highly unusual, with the eruption starting on Sept. 19.

The eruption and its subsequent lava flows have partially or completely damaged roughly 2,860 properties across the island and torched some 1,147 hectares of land, according to the Copernicus Emergency Management Service. Some houses have been almost entirely submerged in ash, with the mountains of ash leaving an out-of-this-world landscape.

Volcanic ash is dangerous, though, as it is very heavy and can collapse roofs. A layer of dry volcanic ash 4 inches (10 cm) thick weighs 13-22 pounds per square foot (40-70 kilograms per square meter), according to the United States Geological Survey. This weight could double when the ash is wet.

The ash has led to numerous injuries, with people falling off buildings trying to clear the ash. In November, a man died after a roof he was attempting to clean collapsed. The man illegally entered the island's exclusion zone, a place off-limits to the public without permission.

For geologists, the La Palma area has become something of a playground, providing a rare opportunity for scientists to study an active eruption in a relatively safe environment.

"There has been a lot of progress in the last 30 or 40 years in the understanding of geological and evolutionary processes, but it's still difficult to know for sure what happens at 40 to 80 kilometers (25 to 50 miles) of depth," said Pedro Hernández, an expert with the Canary Islands' volcanology institute, Involcan.

"We are probably beginning to know the stars better than what happens under our feet," he said to the AP.

With intense seismic activity continuing on the islands and sulfur dioxide emissions remaining high, it seems that the eruption will continue for some time.

"We are very far from those values that give us hope that the eruption is ending, and I think the trend is still desperately slow in the descent," David Calvo, a volcanologist and spokesperson for Involcan told Euronews, meaning that more homes may be lost and more land may be scorched.

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