A volcano erupted on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma on Sunday 19, spewing lava into the air and flowing in rivers towards houses in two villages in the Cumbre Vieja National Park in the south of the island.
Authorities began evacuating the sick and some farm animals from neighboring villages before the eruption at 3:15 pm. (1415 GMT) on a wooded hillside in the sparsely populated area of Cabeza de Vaca, according to the islands government.
Two hours later, with lava flowing down the slope from five cracks torn in the slope, the municipality ordered the evacuation of four villages, including El Paso and Los Llanos de Aridane.
After nightfall, video footage showed lava fountains shooting hundreds of meters into the sky, and at least three orange, glowing rivers of molten rock descending the hillside, opening up cuts in forests and farmland, and spreading out as they reached the ground.
A stream, several hundred meters long and tens of meters wide, crossed a road and began to engulf houses scattered across El Paso. Video footage shared on social media, which Reuters was unable to verify, showed lava entering a house.
“When the volcano erupted today, I was scared. For journalists it’s something spectacular, for us it’s a tragedy. I think the lava hit the homes of some relatives,” resident Isabel Fuentes, 55, told Spanish television TVE .
“I was 5 years old when the volcano last erupted (in 1971). You never get over a volcanic eruption,” added Fuentes, who said he moved to another house on Sunday for his safety.
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The president of the Canary Islands, Angel Victor Torres, told a news conference on Sunday night that 5,000 people had been evacuated and no injuries had been reported so far.
“It’s not predictable that someone else will have to be evacuated. The lava is moving towards the coast and the damage will be material. According to experts, there are around 17-20 million cubic meters of lava,” he said.
Return flights to the Canaries continued normally, said airport operator Aena.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrived in La Palma, the most northwestern island in the archipelago, on Sunday night for talks with the island’s government about managing the eruption.
“We have all the resources (to deal with the eruption) and all the troops, the citizens can rest easy,” he said.
Stavros Meletlidis, a physician of volcanology at the Spanish Geographical Institute, said the eruption had punched five holes in the slope and that he wasn’t sure how long it would last.
“We have to measure lava every day and that will help us find out.”
The 15-metre-high lava flow has already engulfed 20 homes in the village of El Paso and stretches of roads, Mayor Sergio Rodriguez told TVE radio on Monday morning.
It is now spreading through the nearby village of Los Llanos de Aridane, where hundreds of homes are at risk, he said.
“We are monitoring the trajectory of the lava,” said Rodriguez.
Since the eruption on Sunday afternoon, the volcano has hurled lava hundreds of meters into the air and dumped streams of molten rock towards the Atlantic Ocean over a sparsely populated area of La Palma, the northwesternmost island in the Canary archipelago.
No deaths have been recorded and none are likely to happen, as long as no one behaves recklessly, volcanologist Nemesio Perez said on Monday.
La Palma was on high alert after more than 22,000 tremors were reported in the space of a week in Cumbre Vieja, which belongs to a chain of volcanoes that erupted in 1971 and is one of the most active volcanic regions in the Canary Islands.
In 1971, a man was killed while taking pictures near lava flows, but no property was damaged.
Jonas Perez, a local tour guide, said he was still feeling the aftershocks from the eruption.
“But now the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced is that the noise coming from the volcano, it sounds like… twenty fighter jets taking off and it’s extremely loud, it’s amazing,” he added.
There were mandatory evacuation orders for four villages, including El Paso and Los Llanos de Aridane, and temporary shelters were set up. No victims have been reported so far.
Mr. Sanchez delayed his departure for the UN General Assembly in New York to meet with Mr. Torres to discuss the emergency services response to the eruption.
“Everything is going according to plan and therefore the priority is to ensure the safety of the citizens of La Palma, who could be affected as a result of the eruption,” Sanchez said on Sunday.