LA PALMA, Spain (Reuters) – Red hot lava from a volcano that devastated the Spanish island of La Palma reached the Atlantic Ocean late on Tuesday evening, nine days after it started to flow down the mountain, wrecking buildings and destroying crops.
Big clouds of white steam billowed up from the Playa Nueva area as the lava made contact with the ocean, according to Reuters images. Photographs shared on social media showed the lava piling up near a cliff.
Officials said the lava flowing into the sea could trigger explosions and clouds of toxic gases and the Canary Islands’ emergency service urged those outdoors to immediately find a safe place to shelter. No injuries have been reported.
“When the lava reaches the sea, the lockdown must be strictly observed,” Miguel Angel Morcuende, director of the Pevolca response committee, said earlier on Tuesday.
Lava has been flowing down the Cumbre Vieja volcano’s western flank toward the sea since Sept. 19, destroying almost 600 houses and banana plantations in La Palma, which neighbours Tenerife in the Canary Islands archipelago off the North African coast.
Thousands of people have been evacuated and three coastal villages were locked down on Monday in anticipation of the lava meeting the Atlantic Ocean.
Spain classified La Palma as a disaster zone on Tuesday, a move that will trigger financial support for the island.
The government announced a first package of 10.5 million euros ($12.3 million), which includes around 5 million euros to buy houses, with the rest to acquire furniture and essential household goods, government spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez said.
One resident who was evacuated last week from the village of Tacande de Arriba was delighted to find his house still standing and his pet cats unscathed.
“It’s a good feeling, a fantastic feeling,” said Gert Waegerle, 75, who fled the advancing lava with his five turtles on Friday but had to leave the cats behind.
“I am super happy because in the end, everything turned out fine.”
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(Reporting by Miguel Pereira, Marco Trujillo, Jon Nazca, Nacho Doce and Borja Suarez in La Palma and Emma Pinedo and Inti Landauro in Madrid; Writing by Nathan Allen and Catarina Demony; Editing by Andrei Khalip, Angus MacSwan, Karishma Singh and Jane Wardell)