LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Spain — A volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma in the Atlantic Ocean erupted on Sunday after a week of seismic activity, prompting authorities to evacuate thousands of people as lava flows of lava were destroying isolated houses and threatening to reach the coast. New eruptions continued overnight.
The Canary Islands Volcanology Institute reported the first eruption shortly after 3 p.m. near the southern end of the island, which last erupted in 1971. Huge red plumes topped with black and white smoke erupted along the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge, which scientists had closely tracked as molten lava buildup below the surface and days of small earthquakes.
Victor Torres, president of the Canary Islands, said that by 11 p.m. some 5,000 people had been evacuated from their homes. Most, he said, had found family or friends to take them in. The others were in shelters.
La Palma, with a population of 85,000, is one of eight volcanic islands in the Spanish Canary archipelago, off the west coast of Africa. At their closest point, the islands are 60 miles from Morocco.
A magnitude 4.2 earthquake was recorded before the eruption, which took place in an area known as Cabeza de Vaca on the western slope as the ridge descends towards the coast. As the eruptions continued, at least two open vents spewed bright red magma into the air which then flowed in narrow streams down the mountainside.
Shortly after the initial explosion rocked the area, a flow of black lava with a hot tip immediately slid towards houses in the village of El Paso. Mayor Sergio Rodriguez said 300 people in immediate danger had been evacuated, roads had been closed and authorities had urged onlookers to stay away from the area.
The lava eventually destroyed at least eight homes, local officials say, causing at least one cottage with a tower to collapse. Authorities have warned that the lava flows could also threaten the municipalities of El Paraiso, Alcala and surrounding areas.
Carlota Martin was on a farm plot her family owns in Todoque, just downriver from the site of the eruption, when she heard a huge explosion.
“When we saw the column of smoke we thought it couldn’t be real, but it just kept growing and we knew we had to get out of there,” she told Reuters. Associated Press. “You leave, but you also look back because you want to see what will happen. No one knows how the lava flows will descend, but our land and many homes in the area could be a hindrance.
Mariano Hernandez, president of the island of La Palma, said there were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries, but the lava flows worried him “from populated areas of the coast”.
“People should not approach the eruption site where the lava is flowing,” Hernandez said. “We are having serious problems with the evacuation because the roads are congested with people trying to get close enough to see him.”
Itahiza Dominguez, head of seismology at Spain’s National Institute of Geology, told Canary Islands television that while it was too early to tell how long this eruption would last, “previous eruptions on the Canary Islands have lasted for weeks or even months.
La Palma’s last eruption 50 years ago lasted just over three weeks. The last eruption on all of the Canary Islands occurred underwater off the island of El Hierro in 2011. It lasted for five months.
Volcanologist Vicente Soler of Spain’s Higher Council said “the material appears to be very fluid, the lava flows will reach the sea sooner or later.” The scientific committee of the Volcanic Risk Prevention Plan said part of the island’s southwest coast was at risk of landslides and rockfalls.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has canceled his trip to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly so he can travel from mainland Spain to the Canary Islands.
“The people of La Palma need to be assured that we have all the necessary emergency resources and personnel,” Sanchez said after meeting with local officials on the island.
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