LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Canary Islands – Hundreds of people in Spain’s Canary Islands feared for their homes and belongings on Wednesday as new river of lava from an erupting volcano threatened another part of La Palma island .
Island authorities on Tuesday ordered the evacuation of around 800 people from the coastal town of Los Llanos de Aridane after lava took a new direction towards the Atlantic Ocean and put their homes on a likely path of destruction . It was the first massive sortie since around 6,000 people were ordered to leave immediately after the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on September 19.
Volcanologists found that a new lava flow north of the main river of molten rock had branched out and was heading towards an inhabited area outside of the previous evacuation area.
“Part of the neighborhood had already been evacuated, but given the evolution of the lava flow, it was deemed necessary to clean up this specific area,” the mayor of Los Llano de Aridane, María García, told the Spanish public television channel TVE.
Residents of the La Laguna neighborhood only had a few hours to pick up their most valuable possessions and leave. Volunteers helped school workers collect educational materials, while others loaded cars and trucks with furniture. Police accompanied individual families on Wednesday who requested to return to the exclusion zone to collect other personal effects.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez visited the island on Wednesday, his fourth visit since the initial eruption.
“Unfortunately, the news we have from the scientific committee is that the activity of the volcano is not decreasing, so a reduction in its activity is not foreseeable in the coming days,” Sánchez said. “I know it is hard after so many days and nights of suffering, but I ask you to be patient because there is nothing we can do until the volcano stops.”
Sánchez’s government has pledged 214 million euros ($ 247 million) to help rebuild homes, farms and businesses in the affected area.
The volcano that opened the Cumbre Vieja ridge 24 days ago has now lasted longer than La Palma’s previous eruption in 1971. It is the third eruption on the island in the last century.
Most of those who have had to leave their homes have found refuge with family or friends. Some 280 people are in a hotel. Authorities are working to buy empty or newly built homes for those whose homes have been destroyed.
La Palma is part of the Spanish Canary Islands, an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean in northwest Africa whose economy depends on tourism and the cultivation of Canarian plantains.
The lava destroyed more than 1,400 buildings on the island, including homes, farms, and other structures, and covered 656 hectares (1,621 acres), including 90 hectares (over 200 acres) of plantains. No life was lost.