Several small earthquakes shook the Spanish island of La Palma off northwest Africa in the early hours of Tuesday, keeping nerves on edge as rivers of lava continued to flow toward the sea and a new vent blew open on the mountainside.
After moving downhill across the island’s countryside since Sunday’s eruption, the lava is gradually closing in on the more densely populated coastline.
Officials said a river of lava was bearing down on the neighbourhood of Todoque, where more than 1,000 people live and where emergency services were preparing evacuations.
About 6,000 people on La Palma have been evacuated from their homes so far and 183 houses damaged, government spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez said after a cabinet meeting in Madrid.
The new vent is 900 metres north of the Cumbre Vieja ridge, where the volcano first erupted on Sunday after a week of thousands of small earthquakes.
That so-called earthquake swarm gave authorities warning that an eruption was likely and allowed more than 5,000 people to be evacuated from the area, avoiding casualties.
The new fissure opened after what the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute said was a 3.8-magnitude quake late Monday.
La Palma, which has a population of about 85,000 people, is part of the volcanic Canary Islands.
Lava by Tuesday had covered 106 hectares of terrain, according to the European Union’s Earth Observation Program, called Copernicus.
Unstoppable rivers of lava, some as high as six metres, rolled down hillsides, burning and crushing everything in their path.
The head of the Canary Islands regional government, Angel Victor Torres, said authorities would ask for European Union financial aid to help rebuild.
He said damage already amounted to much more than 400 million euros, which qualifies the archipelago for emergency EU aid.
He described the region as a “catastrophe zone” and said he would request money to rebuild road and water supply networks and create temporary accommodation for families who had lost their homes as well as their farmland — and sometimes their livelihoods.
Lava’s pace appears slowing
Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia are due to visit the affected area on Thursday.
Authorities said the pace of the lava’s advance appeared to have slowed and didn’t expect it to reach the sea before Wednesday at the earliest, Spanish private news agency Europa Press reported.
When it reaches the Atlantic Ocean, it could cause explosions and produce clouds of toxic gas. Scientists monitoring the lava measured it at more than 1,000 C.
Scientists say the lava flows could last for weeks or months. The volcano has been spewing out between 7,260 and 9,525 tonnes of sulfur dioxide a day, the Volcanology Institute said.