The eruption began at 3:15 p.m. (2:15 p.m. GMT) on a wooded slope in Cumbre Vieja National Park on Sunday, the government said.
Cumbre Vieja is one of the most active volcanic regions in the Canaries and the eruption comes after a week-long build-up of seismic activity, prompting authorities to evacuate thousands of people from neighboring settlements.
As night fell, video footage showed lava fountains projecting hundreds of feet into the sky and at least three glowing orange rivers of molten rock pouring down the hill, tearing through woods and farmland and spreading as they reached the lower lands.
A stream, several hundred meters long and tens of meters wide, crossed a road and began to engulf scattered houses in the evacuated village of El Paso. Video footage shared on social media, which Reuters news agency could not verify, showed lava entering a house.
“When the volcano erupted today, I was scared. For journalists it is something spectacular, for us it is a tragedy. I think the lava has reached the houses of some parents, ”local resident Isabel Fuentes, 55, told Spanish television TVE.
The last eruption dates from 1971.
“I was five years old when the volcano last erupted. You never recover from a volcanic eruption, ”added Fuentes, who said she moved to another house on Sunday for her safety.
” Stay home “
Canary Islands President Angel Victor Torres told a press conference on Sunday evening that 5,000 people had been evacuated and that no injuries had been reported so far.
“It is not foreseeable that someone else will have to be evacuated. The lava moves towards the coast and the damage will be material. According to experts, there are around 17 to 20 million cubic meters (55.7 to 65 cubic feet) of lava, ”he said.
Flights to and from the Canaries were continuing normally, the airport operator Aena said.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has delayed a trip to the United Nations to visit La Palma, the archipelago’s most northwestern island, arriving late Sunday.
“We have all the resources (to deal with the eruption) and all the troops, the citizens can sleep peacefully,” he said.
Stavros Meletlidis, a volcanologist at the Spanish Geographical Institute, said the eruption tore five holes in the hill and he could not know how long it would last.
“We have to measure the lava every day and that will help us determine that. “
The first recorded eruption in La Palma dates back to 1430, according to the Spanish National Geographical Institute (ING).