Andres Gutierrez / Agence Anadolu via Getty Images
A massive volcanic eruption over the weekend in La Palma that forced the evacuation of thousands of people did not deter Spain’s tourism minister from promoting travel to the island.
The eruption of La Cumbre Vieja in the Canary Islands, the first in 50 years in the seismically active Spanish archipelago, sent lava hundreds of meters into the sky and spat out the volcano’s face, destroying homes and nearby forests and forced some 5,000 people, including some 500 tourists, to flee.
No deaths were immediately reported.
Spain’s Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto, speaking to Canal Sur radio on Monday, suggested the eruption is a potential tourist attraction.
“The island is open,” she said. “If your hotel is hit, we’ll find you another one,” adding that if security is tightened, tourists can continue to enjoy the island.
“Take this opportunity to take advantage of what nature has given us,” she insisted.
His comments sparked a political backlash
Maroto’s remarks were at odds with those of other local officials who warned of the danger posed by the eruption, and they sparked outrage from his political opponents.
Spain’s conservative People’s Party tourism spokesperson called Maroto in a Tweeter, calling his comments “totally inappropriate”.
“There are people who lose their homes !!!” he wrote.
Speaking later on Monday, Maroto clarified his remarks, insisting that the first priority was to help the islanders cope with the disaster.
“In the future – in the weeks and months to come, when this disaster has passed – we will be thinking about how we can once again make the beautiful island of La Palma a tourist area,” she said. .
The island has a history of volcanic activity
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrived in La Palma, home to around 85,000 people, on Sunday shortly after the eruption began to meet with regional authorities to coordinate relief efforts. He is expected to travel to the vicinity of La Cumbre Vieja on Monday, which translates to “The Old Summit”.
Volcanologist Nemesio Perez was quoted by Reuters as saying that if no one behaves recklessly, there should be no deaths from the volcano.
Thousands of small tremors, known as “earthquake swarms”, on the island in recent days have alerted authorities, according to Reuters. Authorities warned last week that an eruption was possible.
Scientists have also warned that the southwest coast of La Palma, where La Cumbre Vieja is located, is prone to possible landslides and rockfall.
The eruptions recorded on the island date back to the 14th century, the most recent having taken place in 1971. This eruption of the Teneguía de La Palma volcano spat out lava for more than three weeks and killed a photographer trying to capture images of the rash.