Authorities in Spain’s Atlantic Ocean island of La Palma have evacuated thousands of people after a volcano erupted on Sunday with lava flows destroying isolated houses and threatening to reach the coast.
The Canary Islands Volcanology Institute reported the initial eruption shortly after 3pm near the southern end of the island, which saw its last eruption in 1971. New eruptions continued into Sunday night.
Víctor Torres, president of the Canary Islands, said that some 5,000 people had been evacuated from their homes. Most, he said, had found family or friends to take them in. The rest were in shelters.
La Palma, with a population of 85,000, is one of the eight volcanic islands in Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago off Africa’s western coast. At their nearest point, the islands are 100km (60 miles) from Morocco.
A 4.2-magnitude 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 to the coast.
Shortly after the initial explosion rocked the area, one black lava flow with a burning tip immediately slid towards houses in the village of El Paso. Mayor Sergio Rodríguez said 300 people in immediate danger were evacuated, roads were closed and authorities urged the curious not to approach the area.
The lava eventually destroyed at least eight houses, according to local officials, 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.
Itahiza Dominguez, head of seismology of Spain’s National Geology Institute, told Canary Islands Television that although it was too early to tell how long this eruption would last, prior “eruptions on the Canary Islands lasted weeks or even months”.