AFP/Reuters/ La Palma, Spain
The Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on Spain’s Canary Islands yesterday, spewing out lava, ash and a huge column of smoke after days of increased seismic activity, sparking evacuations of people living nearby, authorities said.
Cumbre Vieja, which last erupted 50 years ago, straddles a ridge in the south of La Palma island, home to 80,000 people.
“The eruption started in the Cabeza de Vaca zone, in El Paso,” the local government said on its Twitter account, adding that evacuations have started in the areas closest to the volcano. “People are asked to be extremely careful and to stay away from the eruption zone to avoid needless risk.”
The head of the Canaries region, Angel Victor Torres, said the zone was forested and “sparsely populated”.
The population of nearby villages were told to go to one of five centres to be evacuated and soldiers were deployed to help.
State television ran live coverage of the eruption during the late afternoon.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced he would head to the scene later Sunday “to follow developments”.
“Given the situation La Palma island, the head of government has delayed his scheduled departure today for New York” to attend the UN General Assembly, a statement said.
“All the services are prepared to act in a co-ordinated fashion,” Sanchez wrote on Twitter.
The interior ministry said 200 members of the security services had been mobilised with a helicopter as back up.
Experts had been keeping a close watch on the volcano after observing an upsurge in seismic activity and magma displacements.
An earthquake swarm under La Cumbre Vieja began a week ago and since then there had been thousands of tremors, the strongest with a magnitude of nearly four, the Involcan vulcanology institute said.
An earthquake swarm is a sequence of seismic events occurring in one place within a relatively short period of time.
The authorities had on Tuesday raised the alert level from green to yellow, the second of four levels, in certain areas around the volcano, meaning civil protection officials had to inform the public “to take precautions ahead of a possible volcanic eruption”, under an emergency plan.
Stavros Meletlidis, a doctor of volcanology at the Spanish National Geographical Institute (ING), said the eruption had opened up five fissures in the hillside and that he could not be sure how long the eruption would last. “We have to measure the lava every day and that will help us to work it out.”
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