Lava flowing from the Canary Islands’ first volcanic eruption in 50 years has forced the evacuation of 5 500 people and destroyed at least 100 houses, authorities said.
The flow of molten rock was expected to reach the coast later on Monday evening, potentially triggering more explosions, and the volcano itself would remain active for days.
The volcano erupted on Sunday, shooting lava hundreds of metres into the air, engulfing forests, and sending molten rock towards the Atlantic Ocean over a sparsely populated area of LaPalma, the northwesternmost island in the Canaries archipelago.
No fatalities or injuries have been reported but drone footage captured two tongues of black lava cutting a devastating swathe through the landscape as they advanced down the volcano’s western flank towards the sea.
A Reuters witness saw the flow of molten rock slowly tear its way through a house in the village of Los Campitos, igniting the interior and sending flames through the windows onto the roof.
Authorities have not given an updated tally of how many properties have been destroyed since the head of La Palma’slocal government gave an estimate of 100 early on Monday.
Regional leader Angel Victor Torres said the damage would be substantial. “It was horrible,” said Eva, a 53-year old tourist from Austria. “We felt the earthquake, it started in the morning …Then at 3 in the afternoon the lady from our house came and said you have to pack everything and leave quickly.”
“We’re happy to go home now,” she said at the airport, boarding a flight back home after cutting her trip short.
Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto said the eruption was “a wonderful show” which would attract more tourists – comments that were criticised by the opposition at a time when many residents have lost their homes.
Some of the tourists at the airport disagreed with Maroto.” We want to leave as fast as possible,” said Wienard, a 55-year-old social worker from Salzburg.
But at least one visitor was happy. “I felt like a little child inside, very excited,” said Kabirly, 26, a market researcher from Belgium. “It was also my birthday yesterday so it was sort of a candle on the island cake!”
About 360 tourists were evacuated from a resort in La Palma following the eruption and taken to the nearby island of Tenerife by boat early on Monday, a spokesperson for ferry operator Fred Olsen said. A total of more than 500 tourists had to leave their hotels.