The lava from the Spanish volcano heads towards the sea; no injuries
LA LAGUNA, Spain (AP) – Giant lava rivers tumbled slowly but relentlessly towards the sea on Monday after a volcano erupted on a Spanish island off northwest Africa, with rapid evacuations helping to avoid victims.
Long fingers of fiery red lava slid down the hills with white smoke billowing from their leading edges as they engulfed homes, gardens and swimming pools in a trail of destruction across the verdant countryside.
An incessant roar, like that of a plane passing overhead, came from the nearby ridge of Cumbre Vieja where the eruption occurred on Sunday afternoon when two cracks began to spew bright red magma into the air and set the rivers of glowing lava in motion.
Scientists had been monitoring the island of Palma region in the volcanic Canary Islands in recent days amid thousands of earthquakes, mostly of low intensity, and authorities quickly evacuated around 5,500 people.
The lava destroyed more than 100 houses on the hillsides. One of them belonged to the German couple Matthias and Anette Fuchs, aged 65 and 64 respectively.
They said they fell in love with the house as soon as they first saw it. Built in the traditional island architectural style using volcanic material from previous eruptions, the couple had improved it for nearly four decades.
“It was a special place, we saw it once and we fell in love,” Anette Fuchs told The Associated Press, recounting how the couple had organized big dinners for visiting friends and relatives. “It was a paradise.”
The lava was moving at 700 meters (2,300 feet) per hour, according to the Canary Islands Institute of Volcanology. Officials said they expected it to reach the Atlantic Ocean at sunset, where it could cause explosions and produce clouds of acid vapor. Scientists monitoring the lava measured it at over 1000 C (over 1800 F).
Authorities in La Palma, where people live largely from agriculture, told residents of the large areas where volcanic ash was falling to stay indoors with their doors and windows closed.
Scientists say the lava flows could last for weeks or months, but the immediate danger to local people seemed to have passed.
Daniel Álvarez, owner of a bar in Las Manchas, one of the villages closest to the volcano, was evacuated with his family on Sunday and was staying at El Fuerte military barracks with some 300 other evacuees. He didn’t know if the lava had consumed his house.
“For now,” he said, “it looks like it’s safe, but the lava opens up many paths. We have our whole life inside (our house). We would have to start over. “
Canary Islands head of government Ángel Víctor Torres said authorities no longer expected further eruptions, adding that air traffic in the region was unaffected.
“There will be considerable property damage,” Torres told SER radio. “We hope there will be no bodily harm.”
On Monday evening, lava began to flow from a new fissure that opened up on the volcano following an earthquake that rocked the ridges of Cumbre Vieja, the Institute of Volcanology of the Canary Islands. The authorities then ordered the evacuation of another neighborhood and closed some roads. It was not immediately clear how many people were involved in the new evacuation.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez visited the affected area on Monday after delaying his trip to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.
He praised the scientists for monitoring the eruption, saying their work was “fundamental” to avoiding casualties, and pledged his government would help local people rebuild their lives.
The Canary Islands Institute of Volcanology reported the initial eruption shortly after 3 p.m. Sunday near the southern end of the island, which lasted in 1971.
A magnitude 4.2 earthquake was recorded before the eruption, which took place in an area known as Cabeza de Vaca on the western slope as the ridge descends towards the coast.
La Palma, with a population of 85,000, is one of the eight Canary Islands. At their closest point, the islands are 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Morocco.
La Palma’s last eruption 50 years ago lasted just over three weeks. The last eruption on all of the Canary Islands occurred underwater off the coast of El Hierro Island in 2011. It lasted for five months.
Barry Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal.
An earlier version of this story has been corrected to show that Mariano Hernández is the island’s head of government, not the mayor.
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