Lava destroys homes as volcano on Spanish Atlantic island erupts

First eruption on Cumbre Vieja in La Palma since 1971 after week-long build-up

Mount Cumbre Vieja erupts spewing out a column of smoke, ash and lava. Photograph: Desiree Martin/AFP via Getty

Mount Cumbre Vieja erupts spewing out a column of smoke, ash and lava. Photograph: Desiree Martin/AFP via Getty

 

Thousands were being evacuated from their homes on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma on Sunday as lava flows from a volcanic eruption destroyed isolated houses and threatened to reach the coast.

The volcano, Cumbre Vieja, erupted on Sunday, sending jets of lava and a plume of smoke and ash into the air.

As the eruptions continued, at least two open mouths belched bright red magma into the air that then flowed in tight streams down the mountain slope.

Shortly after the initial explosion, 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.

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”.

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 Volcano Risk Prevention Plan said part of the island’s southwest coast was at risk from landslides and rock falls.

Evacuations

Authorities had begun evacuating more vulnerable people and some farm animals from surrounding villages before the eruption, according to the islands’ government.

Two hours later, with rivers of lava edging down the hillside, the municipality issued a mandatory evacuation order for four villages, including El Paso and Los Llanos de Aridane. Soldiers were deployed to help and residents were asked to keep mobile phone use to a minimum.

Spain’s Civil Guard later tweeted that it would take part in the evacuation of between 5,000 and 10,000 people from villages near the volcano.

Video footage showed fountains of red molten lava shooting into the sky, and plumes of smoke could be seen from across the island.

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez said he had postponed his trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York and was on his way to La Palma.

Fissures

Stavros Meletlidis, a doctor of volcanology at the Spanish Geographical Institute, said the eruption had opened up five fissures in the hillside and that he could not be sure how long it would last.

“We have to measure the lava every day and that will help us to work it out.”

Canary Islands president Ángel Victor Torres told TVE that no injuries had been reported so far, but the municipality said several roads had collapsed.

King of Spain Felipe VI spoke with Mr Torres about the situation and was following developments, the royal household said.

Flights to and from the Canaries were continuing as normal, airport operator Aena said.

La Palma had been on high alert after more than 22,000 tremors were reported in the space of a week in Cumbre Vieja, a chain of volcanoes that last had a major eruption in 1971 and is one of the most active volcanic regions in the Canaries.

The earliest recorded eruption in La Palma was in 1430, according to the Spanish National Geographical Institute.

In 1971, one man was killed as he was taking photographs near the lava flows. No property was damaged. – Reuters, Associated Press