Hundreds of people in coastal villages have been hunkering down over the past few days, but if the lava reaches the sea it could unleash a new wave of problems for the island. If the lava reaches water the impact will create explosions of toxic vapour full of hydrochloric acid, experts have warned.
The air would be dangerous to breathe and irritating for the eyes.
Science journalist and volcanologist Dr Robin George Andrews told the BBC a gas plume known as ‘laze’, a portmanteau of lava and haze, will form when the lava comes into contact with ocean water.
“It creates a steam of hydrochloric acid, water vapour and bits of ash,” he said.
“Obviously, it’s not good to breathe in.”
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In its wake the lava has destroyed more than 500 homes along with churches and banana plantations, according to the European Union’s Copernicus disaster monitoring programme.
The estimated damage is around 178 million euros, the Spanish property portal Idealista found on Monday.
Around 300 residents of the coastal areas of San Borondon, Marina Alta and Baja and La Condesa have been trapped in their homes as they anticipate the lava to make the air unbreathable.
The local airline Binter has refused to resume flights to and from the island, stating the conditions remain unsafe.
Flights were expected to resume on Monday afternoon, but are now cancelled until Tuesday.
The island has not reported any fatalities or serious injuries, but an estimated 15 percent of the island’s banana crop is at risk.
With a much smaller income provided by tourism compared to nearby Terenife or Gran Canaria, La Palma relies on banana cultivation.
With this devastating hit around five thousand jobs are endangered, the industry has said.
“Losses are already occurring because the banana is in constant production. It is a plant that requires fairly regular irrigation and almost daily work,” Sergio Caceres, manager of the Asprocan banana producers’ association, told Euronews.
If the lava continues to flow towards the sea it may come into contact with the irrigation pipes.