National Geographic : 1958 Jun
VOL. CXIII, No. 6 COPYRIGHT 1958 BY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY, WASHINGTON, D. C. INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT SECURED A New Volcano Bursts from the Atlantic Off Fayal, in Portugal's Verdant Azores, a Jack-in-the-box Eruption Smothers Villages, Awes Visitors-and Even Catches Whales BY JOHN SCOFIELD Senior Editorial Staff, National Geographic Magazine With Illustrations by National GeographicPhotographerRobert F. Sisson "r *HERE may have been more impres sive eruptions," my friend said beside me in the dark, "but this is the first time nature ever provided a grandstand." From our windy cliff top, which towered higher than the Washington Monument, we could see into the very throat of the volcano. Suddenly it looked as if someone had set off all the Roman candles in the world. A steady half-mile-high jet of incandescent boulders, some of them the size of small automobiles, soared into the air and then slammed down onto the ash-covered slope, to lie briefly glow ing there like angry red fireflies. To the left of the main vent, ropy lava sprayed in a dazzling fountain, painting the coiling steam clouds a gaudy orange. Light ning knifed through the inferno above the vent, and rending cracks of thunder broke the soft swish of the eruption. Behind us a full moon climbed slowly up from the sea. Isle Appears, Then Disappears "Atlantic Gives Birth to an Island," the newspapers had announced when this jump ing-jack volcano first raised its head near 12-by-8-mile Fayal, in the Azores (map, page 740). "Azorians Aren't Sure It's a Blessed Event; 3,000 Flee." A month later the papers could take a more optimistic tone: "Isle Disappears into Sea." Then with disheartening promptness came a new catastrophe, and another headline: "Vol cano Erupts Again." From that second beginning the submarine newcomer steadily enlarged its domain, cough ing up a cone 200 feet high. Where 150 feet of salt water had rolled, it built a sandy peninsula that lengthened the island of Fayal by more than half a mile. Volcano-watcher's Permit Required National Geographic photographer Bob Sis son had spent nearly a month on Fayal documenting the monster's changing moods. Now it was my turn to have a look at this youngest and, for the moment, most violent of the world's 500 active volcanoes. And the volcano must have known I was coming. Its middle-of-the-night lava flow climaxed a day in which Ilha Nova, as the Fayalenses call their intractable new neighbor, had brought out every threatening trick in its bag. First I had had to get, of all things, a volcano-watcher's permit. In exchange for a declaration that there would be "no responsi bility for anybody if some accident... hap pens to me," I was handed a typewritten sheet authorizing me to come and go as I chose on the western end of the island. "We had to close the area," the port cap tain of Horta, Fayal's pin-neat capital, told me. "The volcano became a place to picnic; mothers took their children out there." 735 THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE WASHINGTON JUNE, 1958 g ' '