The Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted in Spain’s Canary Islands on Sunday spewing lava, ash and a huge plume of smoke after days of increased seismic activity, prompting evacuations of people living nearby, authorities said.
Cumbre Vieja, which last erupted 50 years ago, straddles a ridge in the south of the island of La Palma, home to some 80,000 people.
“The eruption began in the Cabeza de Vaca area, in El Paso,” the local government said on its Twitter account, adding that the evacuation of more than 1,000 people had begun in the areas closest to the volcano.
Evacuation was mandatory in a dozen areas put on high alert and temporary shelters had been opened.
“People are asked to be very careful and stay away from the eruption zone to avoid unnecessary risks,” added the local government.
The head of the Canary Islands region, Ángel Víctor Torres, said the area was wooded and “sparsely populated,” adding that so far no victims have been reported.
According to local government projections, lava flows from the volcano, located in the center of the island, are likely to move southwest toward inhabited and forested areas, before reaching the coast.
State television broadcast the eruption live in the afternoon.
The Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, announced that he would go to the scene later on Sunday “to follow the events.”
“Given the situation on the island of La Palma, the head of government has delayed his scheduled departure to New York today,” to attend the UN General Assembly, according to a statement.
“All services are prepared to act in a coordinated manner,” Sánchez wrote on Twitter.
I am currently heading to the Canary Islands, in the face of seismic evolution, to know first-hand the situation on La Palma, the coordination of the device and the activated protocols.
We postpone the trip to the US to attend the UN General Assembly.
– Pedro Sánchez (@sanchezcastejon) September 19, 2021
At 18:30 GMT, flights to and from the island had not been interrupted, airport operator Aena said.
The Interior Ministry said that 200 members of the security services had been mobilized with a helicopter as backup.
Thousands of tremors
Experts had been keeping a close eye on the volcano after observing an increase in seismic activity and magma shifts.
A swarm of earthquakes below La Cumbre Vieja began a week ago and since then there have been thousands of tremors, the strongest at a magnitude of nearly four, the INVOLCAN volcanology institute said.
An earthquake swarm is a sequence of seismic events that occur in one location within a relatively short period of time.
Authorities 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 were required to inform the public “to take precautions before a possible volcanic eruption. “, under an Emergency Plan.
INVOLCAN had reported “significant ground deformation” as a result of “a small volume” of new magma flowing into the reservoir below the volcano, amounting to 11 million cubic meters.
“Without a doubt, the current seismic swarm represents a significant change in the activity of the Cumbre Vieja volcano and is related to a process of magmatic intrusion under the island of La Palma,” he said.
Las Canarias, an archipelago of seven islands off northwest Africa, last recorded a volcanic eruption in 2011, underwater off the island of El Hierro.
Cumbre Vieja erupted twice in the 20th century: in 1971 and in 1949.