Anticipate the advance of the lava flows from the La Palma volcano

This work by futurologists began on September 19, when the eruption occurred at 3:10 p.m. The first security perimeter led to the evacuation of the service station despite the fact that it was more than four kilometers from the main cone. This closure of the facility was extended in time, proceeding to use it as a meeting point for those affected who every day went to remove the last items that still remained in their homes.

It is not until October 1 when the first signs are produced that one of the washings may affect the neighborhood. “Nobody thought it was going to go through there,” he acknowledges andhe corporal of the UME, Reinaldo Estévez. Disa was in charge of informing Pevolca of the situation: at the gas station located in a strategic place, at the junction of the road that connects Los Llanos with Puerto Naos with the one that goes from La Laguna to Tazacorte, there were 10,927 liters of fuel stored in three different tanks.

The operation requires at least 24 hours in advance to be executed, so the energy company provided its security and emergency experts to proceed with the emptying. “All this work must always be done as a preventive measure, you cannot wait for D-day and H-hour,” he says. Javier García Montero, sergeant of Gran Canaria Emergency Consortium and one of the participants in the device who emphasizes that in a situation like this “you have to go about a day or two ahead” of the lava.

The operation organized by Disa, which was assisted by the security forces and the Consortium’s firefighters, took place the next day and lasted four hours, according to the oil company. In it, all the security measures were used, such as an explosivity level meter to ensure that there were no areas that could produce a deflagration or a non-sparking tool. All this, with a team displaced from Tenerife that carried a pump with a flow rate of about 400 liters per minute.

The troops use the principle of prudence: act in the worst case scenario


The situation normalized during the next two weeks until the Pevolca requested to degas the tanks. The option that was taken was to fill them with water. “It is making it like a piston effect,” explains Javier García. It was about 40,000 liters of capacity in three tanks that were completed with vats provided by Disa and with trucks from the Consortium’s firefighters, thus shortening the times.

The situation got complicated in the last two weeks. Lava from the last fracture north of the main cone was moving quite fast. As time passed, La Laguna was put more at risk. On October 12, residents of the upper area of ​​the neighborhood were evacuated. The 14th, the other part of the population nucleus. It is not until the 19th, Tuesday of last week, when the risk of lava entering its streets is already seen. “We did not think it would go so far,” also admits firefighter Javier García.

It is that day when what García talks about those 24 or 48 hours that you have to anticipate the volcano is activated. There was a risk that the stored water would act like a pressure cooker inside the tanks, with the consequent possibility of explosion. “If you get a four-meter-high wash and the tanks exceed you, at a temperature of 1,300 degrees, there was the possibility that it would burst and that the explosion would launch pyroclasts far from the safety zone,” says Reinaldo Estévez.

The tanks of a gas station were filled with water that could act as a pressure cooker


Then it was decided to remove the liquid inside. “This is what is called the principle of prudence, when in doubt about what might happen, the worst-case scenario is used,” says the firefighter. The UME and the Gran Canaria Emergency Consortium are in charge of the operation. With the station already inert, they could use any equipment and tool. The maneuver was carried out quickly, in a matter of hours, with a clearing tank that was in charge of pumping the water outside.

There was no longer any risk. It only remained to hope and wish that the lava would change its path. It did not happen. The next day, October 20, the lava woke up at the entrance to the gas station. It seemed like he was paralyzed at that point. But behind it came an “appendix”, as Pevolca’s technical director, Miguel Ángel Morcuende, called it, who was in charge of pushing the enormous wall of volcanic rock. With a power rarely seen before, the lava engulfed the Disa station in La Laguna in a matter of minutes. It was the beginning of the end of a neighborhood that, practically in its entirety, was buried under the laundry that fateful Wednesday.

The firefighters of the Gran Canaria Consortium and the members of the Military Emergency Unit during the extraction of water from the three tanks to avoid possible explosions in anticipation that they would act as if they were a pressure cooker. LP / DLP

Another problem that emergency personnel have faced are the pesticides used by agricultural plantations in the area. In this sense, Javier García highlights that although they generate very bulky smoke columns, “there are no risks.” “That’s what the exclusion zone is for,” continues this firefighter, who stresses that the air makes the polluting material dissipate before reaching the population.

The rapid advance of the lava in the urban area of ​​La Laguna caused that in just a few minutes it buried the gas station located at the junction of the roads that connected Los Llanos de Aridane with Puerto Naos and La Laguna with Tazacorte.


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