Five hundred more people have been forced to flee their homes on the Canary island of La Palma as the ongoing volcanic eruption pushed streams of lava towards inhabited coastal areas and raised fears over the formation of clouds of toxic gas.
The eruption, which began on Sunday afternoon on the Cumbre Vieja ridge, one of the most active volcanic regions in the archipelago, has destroyed at least 183 homes and led to the evacuation of about 6,000 people to date.
A new vent, 約 900 メートル (3,000フィート) north of the ridge, opened late on Monday after what the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute said was a 3.8-magnitude quake. The quake was among the thousands of tremors that have shaken the island over the past fortnight, heralding the eruption.
No fatalities or injuries have been reported, but drone footage captured two tongues of black lava cutting a swathe through the landscape as they advanced down the volcano’s western flank towards the sea. Experts say that if and when the lava reaches the sea it could trigger more explosions and clouds of toxic gases.
Marine authorities have closed off a two-nautical-mile (3.7km) stretch in the sea around the area as a precaution “to prevent spectators on boats and to prevent the gases from affecting people”, Mariano Hernández, chief of the island’s council, told Cadena Ser radio.
The lava flow had been expected to reach the shore on Monday evening but its speed has fallen in recent hours. Despite the slowdown, Hernández said the authorities were concerned by the lava’s progress towards inhabited areas.
“It’s advancing very slowly and what we’re really worried about at the moment its its progress towards the coast because it’s very close to Todoque, a neighbourhood that’s home to more than 1,000 人,” he told the state broadcaster RTVE.
“We’re also very concerned for the families who’ve lost absolutely everything. より多い 150 homes have literally disappeared, and if the advance continues at its current pace, that number could double or triple.”
Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, paid tribute to the “extraordinary work of the emergency workers” deployed on La Palma and said their efforts had kept people on the island safe. But he warned against complacency.
“People need to stay away from the magma and the volcano, and keep the roads as clear as possible,” said Sánchez. “There’s still the risk that evacuations will need to happen and it’s important that the emergency services can operate with all necessary speed in the face of such an unpredictable event.”
Such warnings were not being universally heeded. Roads were clogged as many residents and visitors flocked to catch a glimpse of the eruption – and Spain’s tourism minister even suggested on Monday that the eruption could be a tourist attraction.
しかしながら, emergency workers, banana farmers and grape growers on La Palma were deeply worried.
“This is no joke,” Pedro José Alegría, a 70-year-old farmer, told the Associated Press as he returned to La Laguna, a neighbourhood bordering one of the evacuated areas, to feed his donkey.
Speaking from an ash-covered pickup truck, he said he feared for several of the greenhouses he owns on a banana plantation that overlooks the Atlantic.
The area, located just where the Cumbre Vieja ridge flattens, has some of La Palma‘s most fertile soil and is home to crops of avocado and papaya as well as vineyards.
While Alegría’s immediate concern was that the lava would destroy the intricate piping that feeds the plantation’s sprinklers, there were also fears the volcanic activity could make the groundwater unusable for drinking as well as water-intensive banana farming.
“The volcano may not kill us directly, but it’s going to make a lot of us go bankrupt,” said the farmer.