La Palma's airport reopens but no flights as volcano still erupting
LA PALMA -- The airport on the Spanish island of La Palma reopened on Sunday although all flights were canceled as the volcano spewed lava and emitted ash clouds over the surrounding area a week after it began erupting.
People used umbrellas to protect themselves from falling volcanic cash, while the airport's departures hall was quiet and boards showed only canceled flights.
"They laugh at us because of the umbrella but if we don't use it we end up covered in ash," said engineer Waldo Nasco.
Experts said on Sunday there were two active lava flows, one fast-moving flow to the north and a slower one to the south.
"We have a flow to the north that is moving quickly... this lava comes from more interior areas of the crater and its temperature is about 1,250 degrees," said Miguel Angel Morcuende, director of volcano response committee Pevolca, told a news conference on Sunday.
Reuters drone footage showed a rapid river of red hot lava flowing down the slopes of the crater, passing close to homes, and swathes of land and buildings engulfed by a black mass of slower-moving, older lava.
Lava destroyed the village church in Todoque on Sunday afternoon, its bell tower crumbling under the flow. It narrowly escaped earlier in the week when lava stopped just short of the church.
Morcuende said people who had been evacuated from Tacande de Arriba, Tacande de Abajo and Tajuya would be able to return to their homes.
Spain's airport operator Aena said the airport had reopened after teams cleared ash off the runway. But Binter, the Canary Island airline said it would not allow flights today because of the conditions.
"The ash cloud originating from the volcanic eruption makes it necessary to maintain the temporary stoppage of flights to La Palma... The flights scheduled for today have been canceled," it said in a statement, adding flights would be halted until conditions allowed them to take place safely.
'CLOSENESS AND SOLIDARITY'
Pope Francis sent a message of "closeness and solidarity" to those affected by the eruption during his weekly blessing in St. Peter's Square.
On La Palma, churches held special masses for those affected.
"There are many people who are having a very bad time so we are praying for them," said Magali Zarate, 49, from Mexico, after mass at the church of Colegio Sagrada Familia de Nazaret, where people outside swept away volcanic ash.
Zarate was on holiday on La Palma and was unable to return home because her flight was canceled.
The Cumbre Vieja volcano, which began erupting last Sunday, entered a new explosive phase on Friday, experts said. The national Geographical and Mining Institute said on Saturday its drones had shown the volcano's cone had broken.
The eruption has destroyed hundreds of houses and forced the evacuation of nearly 6,000 people since it began on Sept. 19.
"La Palma airport is back in operation. After progress in ash cleaning work, it can now be reopened," Aena tweeted.
Travellers had been faced with canceled flights on Saturday, and many had joined long queues at the port in the hope of getting a boat off the island.
On Sunday, ferry operator Fred Olsen Express said it would add an extra round trip between La Palma and Tenerife from Monday until Wednesday.
"Fred Olsen Express will increase connections... to continue meeting the demand for transport generated by the emergency situation caused by the volcanic eruption," it said in a statement.
La Palma, with a population of over 83,000, is one of an archipelago making up the Canary Islands.
No fatalities or serious injuries have been reported since the volcano's eruption, but about 15% of the island's economically crucial banana crop could be at risk, jeopardizing thousands of jobs.
Reporting by Guillermo Martinez, Jon Nazca, Nacho Doce and Marco Trujillo in La Palma; Writing by Jessica Jones Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Barbara Lewis