Thousands flee ‘devastating’ Canary Islands volcano

Trail of lava ‘literally eating up homes’ on La Palma island, head of local government says

Mount Cumbre Vieja on La Palma in Spain's Canary Islands erupted on Sunday, forcing about 5,000 people, including 500 tourists, to evacuate. Video: Reuters

 

More than 5,000 people have been evacuated from their homes following the volcanic eruption on the Spanish island of La Palma.

The volcano, in the Cumbre Vieja mountain range on the south of La Palma, in the Canary Islands, started erupting on Sunday. Around 5,500 local people were evacuated by Monday evening as lava engulfed dozens of houses and nearby farmland. Ash and gases also poured out of the volcano.

The head of the island’s local government, Mariano Hernández Zapata, said the situation “is quite devastating, mainly due to that trail of lava which is progressing, around six metres high, literally eating up homes, infrastructure and farmland”.

Several roads were closed and the civil guard helped evacuate people and animals from the path of the lava. There were no injuries or victims as of Monday night.

This is the first volcanic activity of its kind in Spain since 1971, when La Palma was also the scene of an eruption. In 2011, there was an underwater eruption off the island of El Hierro.

Prime minister Pedro Sánchez postponed a trip to New York in order to visit the island. “All of Spain is today with La Palma,” Mr Sánchez said, speaking after arriving on the island.

He added that he wanted “to convey a full commitment that this eruption will not mean that there are people who are left behind, who are hurt from an economic standpoint, despite the fact that there is some irreparable damage that we cannot resolve, such as the loss of homes, with all that means emotionally as well as economically”.

Despite such concerns, the sight of glowing lava pouring out of the mountain also made it an attraction for some people on the island, who admired it from a safe distance. Tourism minister Reyes Maroto suggested the eruption could draw visitors to the island, describing the scene as “a marvellous spectacle”.

Her comments drew widespread criticism. Ana Oramas, a congresswoman of the Canary Coalition, rebuked the minister by tweeting: “A bit of sensitivity. We’re not in the mood for jokes in the Canaries.”

Increased seismic activity on the island in recent days had raised concerns that an eruption was imminent. However, on Saturday, Mr Hernández Zapata said there was no evidence that the volcano was about to explode, although he did outline evacuation preparations.

This eruption is expected to last several weeks or possibly months, given the previous behaviour of volcanoes on the archipelago. The Canary Islands have had 13 documented major eruptions since 1585. Seven of those have been on La Palma, which has seen more volcanic activity than any other island.