Spain: Cumbre Vieja volcano erupts for first time in 40 years shooting streams of lava towards villages

A volcano has erupted on the island of La Palma, in Spain’s Canary Islands, sending lava shooting into the air and streaming towards nearby villages in the south of the island, as the authorities began evacuations.

The eruption began at 3:15pm on Sunday in the Cumbre Vieja national park, the government said.

Cumbre Vieja is one of the most active volcanic regions in the Canaries and the eruption comes after a week-long buildup of seismic activity, prompting authorities to evacuate thousands of people from nearby settlements.

As darkness fell, video footage showed fountains of lava shooting hundreds of metres into the sky, and at least three incandescent orange rivers of molten rock pouring down the hill, tearing gashes into woods and farmland, and spreading as they reached lower ground.

The last eruption was in 1971.

Canary Islands President Angel Victor Torres told a news conference on Sunday night that 5,000 people had been evacuated and no injuries had been reported so far.

“It is not foreseeable that anyone else will have to be evacuated. The lava is moving towards the coast and the damage will be material. According to experts, there are about 17-20 million cubic metres (55.7-65 cubic feet) of lava,” he said.

Flights to and from the Canaries were continuing as normal, the airport operator said.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez delayed a trip to the United Nations to travel to La Palma, the most northwesterly island of the archipelago, arriving late on Sunday.

“We have all the resources (to deal with the eruption) and all the troops, the citizens can rest easy,” he said.

The earliest recorded eruption in La Palma was in 1430, according to the Spanish National Geographical Institute (ING).