Photographer Arturo Rodríguez was taking a shower at his home in Tenerife, the largest of the Spanish Canary Islands,when he heard an alarmed voice blare from the TV in the next room. “It just erupted! It just erupted—I can’t believe it!” the reporter yelled into the camera.
In the weeks leading up to that fateful September day, a swarm of earthquakes had rattled the neighboring island of La Palma, hinting at the movement of magma under the surface. Rodríguez, who was born and raised in La Palma, was preparing for a trip to photograph scientists as they monitored the island’s volcanoes, which had slumbered for the past 50 years. And then one roared awake.
Rodriguez rushed out of the shower to change his flight and made it to the island a few hours later. That night, he snapped photos as fountains of lava shot from the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge, casting an eerie glow over nearby towns. The volcano’s roar filled his ears, like waves crashing on a cliff. Glassy shards of ash rained from the skies, and the scent of spoiled eggs permeated the air.
“I never dreamed about being so close to something like this,” he says. “It’s so big, so powerful.”
So far, the ongoing eruption has destroyed more than 2,500 buildings and displaced thousands of people. Ash has fallen in thick layers, collapsing roofs and burying agricultural lands—and the lava has paved over everything in its path. “This monster erupted in the middle of the most populated area,” Rodríguez says. “I can feel the pain of all the people here.”
That pain became particularly acute when Rodríguez spotted his cousin among crowds of people he was photographing as they packed up to flee the encroaching lava. He put down his camera and rushed to help his cousin hastily pack belongings in boxes.
Now, two months after the first glowing lava emerged, the volcano continues its fiery blasts, and Rodríguez fears for his home island’s future. The economy depends in large part on banana farming, but hundreds of acres of land once used to grow bananas have become entombed in lava. Many of the banana trees that have survived are covered in ash that mars the fruits’ skin, which makes it impossible for farmers to export their crops.
Some people are now moving away, their homes and livelihoods buried in rock. The years ahead remain uncertain, Rodríguez says. “It’s going to be rough for the island.”