A Spanish farmer grapples with a volcano's wrath

Antonio Brito Alvarez has never seen anything like the devastation wrought by the Cumbre Vieja volcano, in his more than 50 years growing bananas on the Spanish island of La Palma, in the Canaries.

It has been spewing out molten rock and ash since Sunday (September 19), ruining the crop on his small plantation.

"This is all burnt. This has been completely burnt by the heat and wind and the same goes for that one over there. The bananas are completely burnt."

Fruit that was spared the scorching heat has been spoiled by fine particles of hard volcanic dust, which chip away at the banana's skin, leaving it unsellable.

Walls of black lava have been slowly ploughing westward, destroying homes, schools, churches, and plantations, just down the road from Alvarez's farm.

So despite his ruined crop, he considers himself one of the lucky ones - neither his plantation nor his home were engulfed. But he fears worse could come.

"If the lava continues flowing and reaches the sea, the pipe goes below the soil, so if it reaches the sea it would break the pipe and that area will no longer be able to be watered. If the pipe is broken, there is no water. If we stop watering that area below there, which is the best area in La Palma, the warmest, that would be a serious problem for La Palma, very serious."

La Palma receives far fewer tourists than nearby Tenerife or Gran Canaria, and depends on banana cultivation for about half its economic output.

The volcano has endangered up to 5,000 jobs in banana production, the industry says.

The island's steep, rugged terrain is ill-suited to automation, meaning farmers need daily access to care for their crops. But they've been barred from the area till next Tuesday (September 28), to let emergency vehicles through.

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