New fissure opens in Canary Islands volcano

Los Llanos de Aridane (Spain) (AFP) –


A new fissure has emerged in the erupting volcano on Spain's Canary Islands, belching out more lava and forcing another 500 people to flee as experts on Tuesday closely watched its progress towards the sea.

The Cumbre Vieja volcano has forced a total of 6,000 people from their homes and destroyed a large number of properties and land spanning a huge area since it erupted on Sunday afternoon.

"166 destroyed buildings and 103 hectares (254 acres) covered by the lava flows," tweeted Copernicus, the EU's Earth observation satellite.

The volcano straddles a ridge in the south of La Palma, one of seven islands that make up the Atlantic archipelago which lies off the coast of Morocco.

"You have practically your whole life there.. then one day the volcano decides to erupt and puts an end to it all," evacuee Israel Castro Hernandez told AFPTV late Monday after his home was destroyed by the wall of lava.

"We keep looking over there and we just can't believe it: we keep thinking that our house is underneath that volcano," said his wife, Yurena Torres Abreu.

The pair were among hundreds more people who were evacuated overnight after the new fissure emerged following an earthquake with a magnitude of 4.1 at 9:32 pm (2032 GMT), the Involcan volcanology institute said.

Long lines of cars could be seen waiting to leave the area as police sirens wailed, the fiery glow of the erupting volcano lighting up the dark skies, AFPTV images showed.

"I just ache for all our people. So many friends have lost everything," said Yurena's sister, Elizabeth Torres Abreu, who also lost her house.

"They left their homes as we did with just the clothes that were on their back and little else. They've left their entire life there."

By Tuesday morning, 500 more people had been forced out of their homes, said Lorena Hernandez Labrador, a councillor in Los Llanos de Aridane, a municipality of 20,000 residents which has been badly affected by the lava.

Volcanology expert Stavros Meletlidis from Spain's National Geographic Institute told Spain's RNE radio the opening of new fissures was "somewhat unpredictable" saying it depended on "the volume of magma and gases".

- Lava speed 'can change quickly' -

When the molten lava reaches the sea, experts warn it will generate clouds of toxic gas into the air, which will also affect the marine environment, with the authorities setting up a no-go zone to head off curious onlookers.

But by Tuesday morning, the lava's speed had slowed and the white-hot mass of molten rock, which has a temperature of nearly 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,830 degrees Fahrenheit), had still not reached the western coast.

The eruption has caused significant damage, but so far nobody has been injured 
The eruption has caused significant damage, but so far nobody has been injured  DESIREE MARTIN AFP

Meletlidis said it was not clear when it would reach the sea because its speed was "very variable".

"It can accelerate very quickly, especially when the topography changes... or it can stop on a plain for several hours. You have to see how both the main flow and the secondary flow are developing," he said.

"The further the lava is from the source, the slower it goes because it loses impulsion from the new matter coming out."

Although the Cumbre Vieja is shooting up vast plumes of thick black smoke several hundred metres into the sky and between 8,000 and 10,500 tonnes of sulphur dioxide per day, the airspace over La Palma has remained open.

Spain's airport operator Aena said all of Monday's scheduled flights had taken place without incident, with another 48 planned for Tuesday.

The last eruption on La Palma was in 1971 when another part of the same volcanic range -- a vent known as Teneguia -- erupted on the southern side of the island.

Two decades earlier, the Nambroque vent erupted in 1949.