MADRID (AP) – 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 speed up evacuations of 1,000 people as the flows lava crept towards isolated houses on the mountainside.
The Canary Islands Institute of Volcanology reported the eruption of Cumbre Vieja, which last erupted in 1971. Huge red plumes topped with black and white smoke erupted along the volcanic ridge as scientists had closely followed the buildup of molten lava beneath the surface and days of small earthquakes.
The explosion took place in an area known as Cabeza de Vaca on the western slope of the volcanic ridge as it descends towards the coast. Shades of red could be seen at the bottom of the black jets that threw rocks into the air.
A black lava flow with a scorching tip was sliding towards some houses in the village of El Paso. Mayor Sergio Rodríguez said 300 people in immediate danger had been evacuated from their homes and sent to the El Paso football field. Roads were closed due to the blast and authorities urged onlookers not to approach the area.
La Palma, with a population of 85,000, is one of eight islands in the Spanish Canary Islands archipelago, off the west coast of Africa. At their closest point to Africa, they are 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Morocco.
Itahiza Dominguez, head of seismology at the Spanish National Institute of Geology, told local television station RTVC that while it was too early to say how long this eruption would last, “previous eruptions on the Canary Islands lasted for weeks or even months ”.
The last eruption on the Canary Islands occurred underwater off the coast of El Hierro Island in 2011. This eruption lasted for five months.
After days of what scientists are calling a “swarm of earthquakes,” authorities in La Palma had already started evacuating residents with reduced mobility on Sunday shortly before the ground opened. The area near the southern tip of the island where the ridge is located is sparsely populated. Residents of the five neighboring villages had already been ordered to be on alert and ready to leave their homes in the event of an eruption.
A magnitude 3.8 earthquake was recorded before the eruption as vibrations from seismic activity were felt at the surface.
The scientific committee of the volcanic risk prevention plan said stronger earthquakes “are likely to be felt and can cause damage to buildings.” The expert committee also noted that part of the southwest coast of the island was threatened by landslides and rockfall.