Canary Islands volcano eruption engulfs homes

Published : September 20, 2021 18:06 IST

The eruption at Cumbre Vieja National Park on the island of La Palma was the first since 1971. Photo: Miguel Calero/Agencia EFE/imago images

The volcano continued to spew red-hot lava and ash into the sky from the island of La Palma. Authorities have evacuated some 5,000 people, while a hundred homes have already been razed.

A volcano that erupted on one of Spain's Canary Islands for the first time in 50 years has already engulfed some 100 homes, prompting the evacuation of thousands, the latest figures showed on September 20.

The volcano erupted on Sunday,after a week of heightened seismic activity.It is located on La Palma, the fifth-largest island in the Spanish archipelago that sits in the Atlantic Ocean off the western coast of Morocco.

The eruption has forced the evacuation of about 5,000 people, including some 500 tourists, according to a Monday update from local officials. Authorities said they were hopeful more people would not need to be evacuated.

Damage only material

Local TV station Radio Television Canaria (RTVC) showed footage of red-hot lava and dust emanating from the Cumbre Vieja National Park in the south of the island. No fatalities have been reported but the volcano was still active on September 20, while some houses continued to burn. Volcanologist Nemesio Perez said there were unlikely to be fatalities, adding that people had so far refrained from reckless behavior.

Around 100 houses were destroyed by Monday, Mariano Hernandez, president of La Palma's council, told Cadena Ser radio. Canary Islands regional President Angel Victor Torres told Spanish state broadcaster TVE that no injuries had been reported so far.

The fire brigade was brought in to fight forest fires caused by the eruption. Flights to and from the Canaries — which are popular with European tourists — were continuing as normal, airport operator Aena said.

Swift evacuation operations

On September 19, Emergency services immediately began to evacuate around 2,000 residents, authorities said, having started moving those with reduced mobility earlier in the day. Spain's Civil Guard initially announced it may need to evacuate up to 10,000 residents, but a later update by authorities on Sunday said 5,000 evacuations may suffice for the time being.

"People are asked to be extremely careful and to stay away from the eruption zone to avoid needless risk," the government had warned immediately after the eruption. Sunday's eruption follow a series of earth tremors this week, measured at 3.8-magnitude, whose vibrations were felt on the surface.

More than 22,000 tremors were recorded in the area — one of the most active volcanoes in the Canary Islands. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez flew to La Palma on Sunday evening to see the eruption for himself. Earlier, he said state organizations were ready to support La Palma "in a coordinated manner."

Earlier eruptions lasted months

Itahiza Dominguez, head of seismology at Spain's National Geology Institute, told RTVC that it was too early to tell how long this eruption would last. He added that prior "eruptions on the Canary Islands lasted weeks or even months."

Eruption area is sparsely populated

The island of La Palma, one of several in the Canary Islands group, has around 83,000 residents. Along with Tenerife, La Palma is the most volcanically active of the islands. September 19's eruption is the eighth since records began and the first on La Palma since 1971.

The last eruption on any of the Canary Islands occurred underwater off the coast of El Hierro island in 2011. That event lasted five months. Unlike the better-known islands of Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and Tenerife, La Palma is not a popular tourist destination.

go, mm, jcg/jlw/tr (Reuters, EFE, AP)

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