Fears La Palma volcano may cause ‘catastrophic tsunami’, say experts

Experts have warned that a massive volcanic eruption in the Canary Islands may be about to cause a "catastrophic" tsunami that could reach the US.

Over the weekend heaps of lava taller than a three-storey building exploded upwards and poured down the Cumbre Vieja ridge on La Palma as part of the volcanic cone collapsed.

The volcano initially erupted on September 19, but now the situation has deteriorated significantly.

Satellite images show the chucks of lava hurtling over previous, already hardened, flows and towards the houses below.

Data from Copernicus, an observation system, says 1,186 buildings have already been fully or partially wiped out with a further 95 now at risk.

Experts are now saying that a mega-tsunami could be on the way.

Researchers at Geosciences Barcelona have attempted to reconstruct the last volcanic collapse that occurred in the region, at El Abrigo some 180,000 years ago.

Drawing on their modelling, they concluded that there could be a "catastrophic" impact on the island, which would see a "devastating" landslide of volcano rock crash into the ocean, displace the water, and produce a humongous tsunami.

They published their findings in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth.

Academics Steve Ward and Simon Day, from the Universities of California and London respectively, have also said that, if a flank of the volcano collapses, goliath waves will form.

They estimate these waves to hit Spain and Morocco within two to three hours of the collapse, and Brazil, the US, and Canada within nine hours.

They concluded in a scientific article: "Geological evidence suggests that during a future eruption, Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma may experience a catastrophic flank collapse.

"For a 500km3 slide block running westward 60km down the offshore slope at 100m/s, our computer models predict that tsunami waves 10 to 25m high will be felt at transoceanic distances."

Julio Pérez, regional minister for security on the Canary Islands, has said regarding the eruption: "We cannot say that we expect the eruption that began 21 days ago to end anytime soon."

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