As the seismic swarms intensified on the Spanish Canary Island, the volcano in the Cumbre Vieja National Park erupted on Sunday shooting lava into the air and streaming in rivers towards houses in two villages.
As the volcano continues to spew lava and ash onto the surface, the Instituto Volcanológico de Canarias has estimated that the volcano is emitting sulfur dioxide into the air at a rate of 6,000-9,000 tons per day. The Institute in a Facebook post said that assuming the wind speed at 2.8-4.2 meters per second, it could reach up to three kilometres in the air.
Authorities had begun evacuating the people from nearby island villages before the eruption at 3.15 pm (1415 GMT) on a wooded slope in the sparsely populated Cabeza de Vaca area, according to the islands’ government. Two hours later, with lava edging down the hillside from five fissures torn into the hillside, the municipality ordered the evacuation of four villages, including El Paso and Los Llanos de Aridane.
Canary Islands President Angel Victor Torres told a press conference on Sunday night that 5,000 people had been evacuated and no injuries had been reported so far. Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrived in La Palma, the most northwesterly island of the archipelago, late on Sunday for talks with the islands’ government on managing the eruption.
The eruption opened two fissures, about 200 meters (650 feet) apart. Officials said the lava streams would likely merge before reaching the sea. The lava was moving in two streams through a mostly unpopulated area, the Canary Islands government chief told SER radio. Around 100 houses were destroyed, private Spanish news agency Europa Press reported.
Experts said the eruption could last for weeks or even months. Itahiza Dominguez, head of seismology of Spain’s National Geology Institute, told Canary Islands Television that although it was too early to tell how long this eruption would last, prior eruptions on the Canary Islands lasted weeks or even months.
Ahead of the volcanic eruptions, authorities had detected more than 4,200 tremors in what scientists called an “earthquake swarm” around La Palma Island since last Saturday. An earthquake swarm is a cluster of quakes in one area during a short period and can indicate an approaching eruption.
The Canary Islands Volcanology Institute had said that by Thursday 11 million cubic meters (388 million cubic feet) of molten rock had been pushed into Cumbre Vieja, a dormant volcanic ridge on La Palma where the last eruption was in 1971. The strongest quake so far was a magnitude 3.4 one, according to the institute.
La Palma, with a population of 85,000, is one of eight volcanic islands in Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago off Africa’s western coast. At their nearest point, the islands are 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Morocco. The earliest recorded eruption in La Palma was in 1430, according to the Spanish National Geographical Institute (ING).