A volcano on the Spanish Atlantic island of La Palma erupted after a week of mounting seismic activity, prompting authorities to evacuate thousands as lava flows destroyed isolated homes and threatened to reach the coast.
The Canary Islands Volcanic Institute reported the first eruption of a volcano near the southern tip of the island, which last experienced a volcanic eruption in 1971.
Huge red plumes topped with black and white smoke erupted along the Cumbre Vieja volcanic mountain range, which scientists have been keeping a close eye on after molten lava accumulated beneath the surface and days of small earthquakes.
Authorities immediately evacuated more than 1,000 people, but the Spanish Civil Guard said it may need to evacuate up to 10,000 residents.
La Palma, with a population of 85,000, is one of eight volcanic islands in the Spanish archipelago of the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa.
A 4.2-magnitude earthquake was recorded before the volcanic eruption, which occurred in an area known as Cabeza de Vaca on the western slope where the hills descend to the coast.
As the eruptions continued, at least two open craters drained bright red magma into the air which then flowed in narrow streams down the mountain slope.
Shortly after the initial eruption that shook the area, black lava with a burning tip immediately slid toward homes in the village of El Paso.
Mayor Sergio Rodriguez said 300 people were evacuated in immediate danger, roads were closed, and authorities urged curious people not to approach the area.
The lava eventually reached some houses, causing at least one chalet with a tower to collapse. Authorities have warned that lava flows may also threaten the municipalities of El Paraiso and Alcala and their surrounding areas.
Although it is too early to know how long this eruption will last, “previous volcanic eruptions in the Canary Islands have lasted for weeks or even months,” Itahisa Dominguez, head of the seismology department at Spain’s National Geological Institute, told Canary Islands TV.
The last eruption of La Palma volcano 50 years ago lasted just over three weeks. The last volcanic eruption occurred in all the underwater Canary Islands off the coast of El Hierro Island in 2011. The eruption lasted for five months.
“It appears that the material is very fluid, and the lava flows will reach the sea sooner or later,” said volcanologist Vicente Soler, of the Supreme Council of Spain.
Part of the island’s southwest coast is at risk of landslides and rockfalls, the scientific committee of the volcano risk prevention plan said.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has canceled his trip to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly so he can travel from the mainland to the Canary Islands.
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