(Update 2: Reledes and rewrites throughout)
Santa Cruz de La Palma, Spain, Sep 19 (EFE).- About 2,000 people have been evacuated – 500 of them tourists – due to the eruption on Sunday of a volcano located in the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge area on the Spanish island of La Palma, one of the most active volcanic zones in the Canary Islands archipelago, after a week in which thousands of small earthquake-like shocks and rumblings had been detected in the region.
The Cumbre Vieja is located southeast of the island’s most populous municipality, Los Llanos.
The eruption spewed lava and a tall column of dark ash and other volcanic material into the air over an unpopulated area, according to an EFE correspondent who witnessed the event.
A few hours before the eruption, local authorities had begun evacuating local residents with mobility problems in the five towns located closest to the volcano’s danger zone.
The volcano has developed seven openings, and from two of them an abundant amount of lava has been flowing toward the towns of Alcala and Paraiso, which have already been evacuated, according to local authorities.
In the latter town, from which 350 residents have been evacuated, the fire that is burning due to the lava flow has already damaged or destroyed several homes.
Experts are analyzing the progress of the eruption and gathering data with which to forecast where the lava could move, although authorities have not been able to determine how long the eruption will last.
That is what future potential evacuations will depend upon, the president of the Las Palmas Town Council, Mariano Hernandez Zapata, told the local television station.
“We hope that the lava is respectful, and is kind and heads toward the coast, causing the fewest possible affects,” he said, issuing a call to the public for “responsibility and common sense” in not visiting the zone of the eruption so as not to hinder the evacuation efforts.
In addition, as a preventive measure, authorities have recommended avoiding taking flights to the island, Spanish airport management officials told EFE, although air traffic has not been halted.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has flown to La Palma, postponing his trip to the United States to attend the United Nations General Assembly session in New York, according to a message he posted on Twitter.
“I’m heading at this time to the Canaries, given the seismic developments, to learn first-hand about the situation in La Palma, the coordination of the efforts and the activated protocols,” Sanchez said.
Shortly before that, also on Twitter, the premier had announced that all Spanish government entities were prepared to act in a coordinated manner given the imminent eruption of the volcano.
The National Geographical Institute and the Volcanological Institute of the Canaries since Sept. 11 have been registering thousands of small earthquakes around the Cumbre Vieja, with their foci starting more than 20 kilometers (13 miles) underground, but which were moving steadily toward the surface as magma worked its way upward under huge pressure from below.
Since the start of last week, the island had been on yellow alert (Level 2 on the 4-point alert scale) due to the risk of volcanic eruption in the area.
The four levels in the risk system are green, yellow, orange and red, with yellow indicating the possibility that a volcano could affect the nearby population.
Since records have been kept – starting with the conquest of the Canaries in the 15th century – La Palma has been the site of seven of the 16 volcanic eruptions the archipelago has experienced.
The Cumbre Vieja is one of the most active volcanic complexes in the Canary Islands, and is the site of two of the last three eruptions registered in the area, the San Juan Volcano in 1949 and the Teneguia Volcano in 1971.