Monday, April 23, 2012

El Hierro Activity Still Apparent, Government Pretending It's Not There

The Spanish government at El Hierro is quickly trying to sweep the eruption under the rug. Even while Earthquake-report.com's Joke Volta continues to photograph clear evidence of underwater activity, underwater video showing degassing and small amounts of erupting lava, and even while seismographs continually record weak volcanic tremor, the government has insisted that the eruption is over. And to prove just how serious they are, they are lowing ALL alert levels, including near the eruption zone itself to "green".

This has a lot of people, especially the folks over there at Earthquake-report.com, scratching their heads as to why a government could actually be so careless. This whole eruption at El Hierro has been incredibly mismanaged by their tourism industry, and the government. Indeed the government has even stood in the way of actual scientific data on the eruption even being made public! Their stance has been one of fear, and thus far has crippled the economy of the small town of La Restinga, rather than helped it. From over cautious evacuations to cover ups, to the downright irresponsible LIFTING of the alert level, it seems the only people who know the truth were those that watched the web cams and hovered over the seismic data. And now the webcam is gone.

This has been a very odd volcano to report on, not because of its submarine eruption near a bustling tourist town, but because of the politicization of a volcanic eruption. It is a story that belongs in a bad volcano movie (Sorry Tommy Lee Jones!), not the real world.

Volcanic eruptions, when benign, and non-threatening as El Hierro is, typically should be a boon for communities and countries. Hawaii volcanoes national park in the US regularly draws tens to hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, all who want to see molten lava hit the ocean in giant explosions and witness the birth of new land. Iceland had an incredible surge in tourism when Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010. Italy's Etna volcano is famous worldwide for its frequent and spectacular paroxysms. And there are multiple volcanoes in South America such as Arenal, Poas, Tungurahua, and more that are regular draws for tourists and scientists alike...

So why did the El Hierro situation go the exact opposite way? First, the government tried to sweep it under the rug. Then it admitted something was going on, and it overreacted and evacuated large portions of the island, and also TOLD tourists not to show up. After that, they regularly butted heads with scientists, telling them what they could and could not make public about a geological event, sewing distrust. And if you are a regular reader of Earthquake-report.com and Joke Volta's adventures there, you'd know that she is now under pressure to "shut up" by the locals who are starting to blame her and Earthquake-report.com for the lack of tourists (or scaring them away) because of her efforts to document every day of the eruption (which is what GOOD volcanologists DO!).

This is kind of spooky. Why on earth would the Spanish government want to cover up an eruption that is CLEARLY ongoing? Its quite strange and disturbing to think that a government can be so incompetent in regards to a natural geological event. It could have gone so differently for the island of El Hierro and the town of la Restinga. They could have had thousands of sight seers, and busy cafe's, but the government instead scared everyone, and tried to un-do their mistake. Now it's simply a mess, and nobody is very happy about it. 

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