More than 1,000 people have been ordered to abandon their homes on the Spanish Island of La Palma, as a new river of lava from the Cumbre Vieja volcano threatened towns on the island’s west coast.
- Authorities are worried lava flow is advancing towards La Laguna town
- Hundreds of residents were given just hours to evacuate
- The volcano’s molten lava has already engulfed almost 600 hectares across La Palma island
Around 800 people from the town of Los Llanos de Aridane were put under an evacuation order on Wednesday night (local time) after the lava took a new course, putting homes in a probable path of destruction.
Volcanologists found that a new lava flow north of the main river of molten rock had branched off and was heading toward an inhabited area outside the previous evacuation zone.
“A part of the neighborhood had already been evacuated, but given the evolution of the lava stream, it was deemed necessary to clear this specific zone,” Los Llano de Aridane Mayor María García told Spanish state broadcaster TVE.
It was the second evacuation order in 24 hours.
On Tuesday, more than 700 people in the nearby neighbourhood of La Laguna were ordered to evacuate their homes.
“We want to pick up documents and other things,” La Laguna resident Enrique said.
“Our whole life is in that house and we cannot collect over 30 years in five minutes.”
Slow lava advance gives residents time to collect valuables
Authorities gave homeowners a few hours to collect their things.
“The lava is advancing slowly. People should have time to take their documents, their personal items and anything of value,” said Miguel Angel Morcuende, technical director of the Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan.
Belongings from schools, business and residencies were hastily put in the back of vans, while school books, desks and toys were carried away by local residents.
Others put domestic animals and pets into the back of their vehicles.
There were 64 seismic movements on Tuesday, the strongest measuring 4.1, the Spanish National Geological Institute said.
La Palma airport remained open but 11 flights were cancelled on Tuesday and others were delayed, airport operator AENA said.
‘We can not do anything until the volcano stops’
The latest evacuation orders have led to the first mass exit since around 6,000 people were told to leave immediately after the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on September 19.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez travelled to the island on Wednesday (local time), his fourth visit since the initial eruption.
“Unfortunately, the news we have from the scientific committee is that the volcano’s activity is not decreasing, so a reduction in its activity is not foreseeable in the coming days,” Mr Sánchez said.
“I know it is tough after so many days and nights of suffering, but I ask you to remain patient, because we can not do anything until the volcano stops.”
Mr Sánchez’s government has pledged 214 million euros ($334 million) to help rebuild homes, farms and businesses in the affected area.
The volcano that cracked open the Cumbre Vieja mountain ridge 24 days ago has now lasted longer than the previous eruption on La Palma in 1971.
It is the third eruption on the island in the past century.
Earlier in the week, lava engulfed a cement plant, raising clouds of smoke.
Lava from the eruption, which began on September 19, has covered almost 600 hectares in total, authorities said.
After the volcano’s cone partially collapsed on Saturday, a new river of lava streamed towards the Atlantic Ocean, devouring banana and avocado plantations and most of the remaining houses in the town of Todoque.
Torrents of molten rock have destroyed 1,186 buildings in the three weeks since the eruption, the Canary Islands Volcanic Institute said, and forced the evacuation of about 6,700 people. No lives have been lost.