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Lava burning through an Atlantic island reaches the ocean as volcanic eruptions continue

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IGME (MINING AND GEOLOGICAL INSTITUTE OF SPAIN)

After nearly two weeks, the volcano erupting on a Spanish island near Morocco is showing no signs of stopping. On Wednesday, lava spilling onto La Palma in the Canary Islands reached the Atlantic Ocean, sparking a potentially dangerous chemical reaction as plumes of smoke rose into the sky.

Residents on the island were told to stay indoors and seal their homes from the toxic gases released.

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UME (EMERGENCY MILITARY UNIT)

When lava reaches the ocean, the “thermal shock” of very hot rock mixing with the seawater can create acidic steam, said Cecilia Reed, a volcano expert and natural hazards communicator with the Royal Geographical Society in London.

According to Reed, the main particle in the rising columns of water vapor is hydrochloric acid. If winds blow these columns inland, they can end up dispersing the acid along the coastline, leaving local residents at risk of skin and eye irritation as well as breathing problems.

UME (EMERGENCY MILITARY UNIT)

When lava hits the ocean, there’s also a risk of explosions, Reed added. “It’s like how if you put ice cubes in a hot drink, it will pop and fizz and you’ll see it bubbling — the same thing can happen with lava but on a much larger scale.”

UME (EMERGENCY MILITARY UNIT)

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UME (EMERGENCY MILITARY UNIT)

The volcano’s eruption has upended life on the island, destroying homes, infrastructure and livelihoods.

The European Union’s earth observation program said Tuesday nearly 600 buildings and more than 13 miles of road had been destroyed by the volcano.

UME (EMERGENCY MILITARY UNIT)

Sept. 22

A police officer orders journalists to leave the area during a media tour near the erupting volcano.

Emilio Morenatti/AP

Emilio Morenatti/AP

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Ignacio Garcia Urquizo via Storyful

Sept. 28

A military emergency unit takes readings of volcanic gases in the early hours.

Luismi Ortiz/AP

Luismi Ortiz/AP

The lava flow had covered more than 630 acres of the roughly 22-mile-long island, the Copernicus organization said. It also said sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere from the eruption was forecast to travel from the Spanish archipelago near northwest Africa as far as the remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

Luismi Ortiz/AP

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TV CANARIAS

Sept. 26

A fountain of lava is seen from the town of Tijarafe on La Palma.

Jon Nazca/Reuters

Jon Nazca/Reuters

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Associated Press

Sept. 24

A mask-wearing child in the town of Tajuya on La Palma.

Nacho Doce/Reuters

Nacho Doce/Reuters

The eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano began on Sept. 19, prompting the evacuation of some 6,000 people on the island of 85,000. No serious injuries or deaths linked to the eruption have been reported, but the ruptures have destroyed homes and covered many of the much-valued banana crops people on the island rely on for income.

Nacho Doce/Reuters

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced an aid package for the island, to help residents rebuild their lives, but it’s not clear when those who left La Palma can return to what they lost. The last time the volcano erupted, in 1971, the activity continued for nearly a month.

Nacho Doce/Reuters

Sept. 23

A view through a lava tube on La Palma.

Emilio Morenatti/AFP/Getty Images

Emilio Morenatti/AFP/Getty Images

Sept. 24

Volcanic ash blankets the landscape.

Emilio Morenatti/AP

Emilio Morenatti/AP

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@INGVvulcani via Storyful

A video shot on Sept. 26 shows a church in La Palma collapsing. Another, shot on Sept. 20, shows lava flowing explosively into a swimming pool. Scenes of the lava, smoke and damage have captured social media attention as the flow charts a destructive path across the island.

@INGVvulcani via Storyful

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Reuters

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Reuters

Sept. 22

The volcano belches a plume of ash.

Emilio Morenatti/AP

Emilio Morenatti/AP

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Reuters

Sept. 25

Residents of La Palma watch the erupting volcano and are constantly on alert.

Nacho Doce/Reuters

Nacho Doce/Reuters

Sept. 20

Lava from the Cumbre Vieja eruption consumes a building in the municipality of Los Llanos de Aridane on La Palma.

Borja Suarez/Reuters

Borja Suarez/Reuters

Sept. 28

The menacing lava flow is seen from the tranquility of a domestic kitchen in El Paso, La Palma.

Jon Nazca/Reuters

Jon Nazca/Reuters

Sept. 27

Lava from the Cumbre Vieja eruption as seen from Tajuya on La Palma.

Jon Nazca/Reuters

Jon Nazca/Reuters

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Credits

Helier Cheung contributed to this report. Editing by Reem Akkad. Video editing by Alexa Juliana Ard. Photo editing by Chloe Coleman.