TODOQUE, Canary Islands — A wall of lava up to 12 meters (40 feet) high bore down on a Spanish island village Wednesday, as residents scrambled to save what they could before the molten rock swallowed up their homes following a volcanic eruption.
The lava still spewing from last Sunday’s eruption in the Canary Islands off northwest Africa advanced slowly down hillsides to the coast, where Todoque was the last village between the molten rock and the Atlantic Ocean.
Residents hoping to save some of their belongings queued up at two areas designated by authorities so they could be escorted into the village. The lava was advancing slowly in the distance, at around 120 meters (400 feet) an hour, with smoke coming from its leading edge as it destroyed everything in its path.
Javier López said his house for the past three decades appeared to be in the lava’s path. He and his relatives had been staying at a friend’s house with the few documents, family memories and basic belongings they had been able to take when they were evacuated on Monday.
“I’ve put my whole life in a van,” López told The Associated Press while waiting for his turn to try to recover a vehicle he had left behind and other valuables.
“This is probably going to be the last time I see my home,” he said. “Or, in the best-case scenario, the house will remain isolated by the lava and inaccessible for who knows how long.”
Firefighting crews trying to save as many houses as possible from being entombed by lava worked nonstop overnight to open a trench to divert the lava flow.
Melisa Rodríguez, another Todoque resident, said that she was trying to stay positive and calm.
“It’s hard to think straight about what you want to save, but we are only allowed in for one hour and you don’t want to take longer because that would be taking time away from others,” she said.
As the lava headed downhill toward the island’s more densely populated coast, some 1,000 people were evacuated late Tuesday from Todoque, bringing the total number of evacuated people on the island of La Palma to around 6,000.
The meeting of the lava, whose temperature exceeds 1,000 degrees Celsius (more than 1,800 F), with a body of water could cause explosions, trigger landslides and produce clouds of toxic gas.
The volcanic eruption and its aftermath could last for up to 84 days, experts said.
The Canary Island Volcanology Institute said it based its calculation on the length of previous eruptions on the archipelago, which like the latest eruption were followed by heavy lava flows and lasting seismic activity.
The institute reported that Tuesday night saw a strong increase in the number of smaller eruptions that hurl rocks and cinders high into the air on the island of La Palma, one of the Canary Islands off northwest Africa.
Authorities say that dangers still lie ahead for residents, including earthquakes, lava flows, toxic gases, volcanic ash and acid rain.
Since last Sunday’s eruption, powerful rivers of unstoppable lava — up to six meters (nearly 20 feet) high — have swallowed up 320 buildings, mostly homes in the countryside.
The lava now covers 154 hectares, according to the Volcanology Institute.
Prompt evacuations have helped avoid any casualties from the eruption, though damage to homes, infrastructure and farmland is significant, officials say.
The volcano has also been spewing out between 8,000 and 10,500 tons of sulfur dioxide — which also affects the lungs — every day, the Volcanology Institute said.