Homes destroyed after volcano erupts in Spain
Country's Civil Guard says up to 10,000 residents may need to be relocated
A volcano on Spain's Atlantic Ocean island of La Palma erupted Sunday after a weeklong buildup of seismic activity, prompting authorities to evacuate thousands as lava flows destroyed isolated houses and threatened to reach the coast. New eruptions continued into the night.
The Canary Islands Volcanology Institute reported the eruption on Cumbre Vieja, which last erupted in 1971. Huge plumes of black-and-white smoke shot out from a point in the volcanic ridge, which scientists had been closely watching following the accumulation of molten lava below the surface and days of small earthquakes.
Authorities immediately evacuated more than 1,000 people, but Spain's Civil Guard said it may need to evacuate up to 10,000 residents.
La Palma, with a population of 85,000, is one of eight islands in Spain's Canary Islands archipelago off Africa's western coast. At their nearest point, they are 100 kilometres from Morocco.
A 4.2-magnitude quake was recorded before the volcanic eruption, which took place in an area known as Cabeza de Vaca, on the western slope as the ridge descends to the coast. Tinges of red could be seen at the bottom of the black jets that shot rocks into the air.
Shortly after the initial explosion rocked the area, one black lava flow with a burning tip immediately slid toward houses in the village of El Paso. Mayor Sergio Rodriguez said 300 people in immediate danger were evacuated, roads were closed and authorities urged the curious not to approach the area.
The lava eventually reached some homes, causing at least one chalet with a tower to crumble. Authorities warned that the lava flows could also threaten the municipalities of El Paraiso, Alcala and surrounding areas.
Carlota Martin was at an agricultural plot her family has in Todoque, just downhill from the eruption site, when she heard a huge explosion.
"When we saw the column of smoke, we thought it could not be real, but it kept growing and we knew we had to get out of there," she told The Associated Press. "You leave, but you are also looking back because you want to see what will happen. Nobody knows how the lava flows will descend, but our plot and lots of houses in the area could be in the way."
Mariano Hernandez, president of La Palma island, said there were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries but that the lava flows made him concerned "about the populated areas on the coast." He said there were five eruption points, of which two were spewing magma.
"People should not come near the eruption site where the lava is flowing," Hernandez said. "We are having serious problems with the evacuation because the roads are jammed with people who are trying to get close enough to see it."
Itahiza Dominguez, head of seismology of Spain's National Geology Institute, told local TV station RTVC that although it is too early to tell how long this one would last, prior "eruptions on the Canary Islands lasted weeks or even months."
The last eruption on La Palma 50 years ago lasted just over three weeks. The last eruption on all of the Canary Islands occurred underwater off the coast of El Hierro island in 2011. It lasted five months.
Volcanologist Vicente Soler of Spain's Higher Council said that "the material appears to be very fluid, the lava flows will reach the sea sooner or later." The scientific committee of the Volcano Risk Prevention Plan said part of the island's southwest coast was at risk for landslides and rock falls.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez cancelled his trip to New York to attend the UN General Assembly so he could travel from Spain's mainland to the Canary Islands.