Volcanic eruption in Spain's Canary Islands forces evacuations

·4 min read

The Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma began erupting Sunday after days of increased seismic activity, forcing thousands to flee and spewing lava that destroyed numerous properties.

The eruption began Sunday afternoon on the southern portion of the island, causing fissures to open which allowed lava to burst into the air and trickle down hillsides and onto roadways.

About 350 buildings in an area of the island known for farming were destroyed by the lava flow, according to Copernicus Emergency Management Service. No injuries have been reported, but as of Thursday morning, the lava had covered 410 acres of land.

The Associated Press, citing the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute, said the lava was moving at a speed of 2,300 feet per hour on Monday but has since slowed its pace. This lava is expected to cause explosions and clouds of acidic steam when it reaches the waters of the Atlantic Ocean later this week. The temperature of the lava was measured at more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

La Palma has a population of about 85,000 and is located within Spain's Canary Islands, which are located off the northwest coast of Africa.

"When we saw the column of smoke, we thought it could not be real, but it kept growing and we knew we had to get out of there," Carlota Martín, a resident who was nearby when the eruption first occurred, told the AP. "You leave, but you are also looking back because you want to see what will happen."

So far about 6,000 people have been evacuated from the area around the volcano and lava flow, according to El País. Authorities have told some residents to remain indoors due to falling volcanic ash.

"But now the most amazing thing, which I've never experienced, is that the noise coming from the volcano, it sounds like... 20 fighter jets taking off and it's extremely loud, it's amazing," Jonas Perez, who is a local tour guide, told the BBC.

An additional fissure formed in the volcano on Monday evening, following a 3.8 magnitude earthquake, according to the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute.

"People should not come near the eruption site where the lava is flowing," Mariano Hernández, the president of La Palma, said earlier this week according to the AP. "We are having serious problems with the evacuation because the roads are jammed with people who are trying to get close enough to see it."

Spain's Civil Guard said that it could end up evacuating up to 10,000 residents if necessary.

At the start of the eruption Sunday, La Palma's airport was briefly closed due to volcanic ash. This led to two flights being diverted, but flights resumed later that day. Flights were halted once again Thursday morning due to ash. It was reported, however, that overall impacts to air travel have been minimal due to the small amount of ash emissions.

On Tuesday, Ángel Víctor Torres, the president of the Canary Islands, announced that damage on La Palma will total an amount higher than 400 million euros (469 million USD).

La Palma was put on high alert for an eruption after more than 22,000 earthquakes were recorded within one week around the volcano, the BBC reported.

"A swarm of earthquakes can often precede a volcanic eruption," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Tyler Roys.

This eruption is reminiscent of Hawaii's Lower Puna eruption in Kīlauea's Lower East rift zone. The eruption began in 2018 but was still active as late as mid-2019.

The island is no stranger to eruptions, as Cumbre Vieja erupted back in 1971 and 1949. The last eruption on La Palma lasted for three weeks, according to The Associated Press. The most recent eruption throughout the entire archipelago was an underwater eruption near El Hierro island in 2011 that lasted for about five months.

"The area will not have to contend with any significant weather in the coming days, which should help if any additional evacuations are needed," said Roys. "Barring a brief shower on a few occasions, dry weather will prevail through the rest of the week."

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