Experts had been monitoring the Cumbre Vieja volcano after detecting a surge in seismic activity
The Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on Spain’s Canary Islands Sunday, spewing out lava, ash and a huge column of smoke after days of increased seismic activity and forcing the evacuation of around 5,000 local people, authorities said.
Cumbre Vieja, which last erupted 50 years ago, straddles a ridge in the south of La Palma island, home to around 80,000 people.
The evacuation was obligatory in a dozen areas placed on a maximum alert and temporary shelters were opened.
The head of the Canaries region, Angel Victor Torres, said the zone was forested and “sparsely populated”. No casualties had so far been reported, he added.
According to the local government’s projections, lava flows from the volcano, located in the centre of the island, were likely to move southwest towards inhabited and wooded areas, before reaching the coast.
The lava flows were moving at about 700 metres (yards) an hour, and had a temperature of nearly 1,000 Centigrade, according to the Canaries Islands Institute of Volcanology.
State television ran live coverage of the eruption during the late afternoon.
“Given the situation (on) La Palma island, the head of government has delayed his scheduled departure today for New York,” to attend the UN General Assembly, a statement said earlier.
As of 1830 GMT, flights to and from the island had not been disrupted, airport operator Aena said.
– Thousands of tremors –
An earthquake swarm under La Cumbre Vieja began a week ago and since then there had been thousands of tremors, the strongest with a magnitude of nearly four, the Involcan volcanology institute said.
On Tuesday, the authorities raised the alert level from green to yellow, in certain areas around the volcano. The second of four alert levels, the change meant civil protection officials had to inform the public “to take precautions ahead of a possible volcanic eruption”, under an emergency plan.
“Undoubtedly 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 beneath the island of La Palma,” it said.
Cumbre Vieja erupted twice in the 20th century — in 1971 and in 1949.
Originally published as Volcano erupts on Spain’s Canary Islands