Ash from the La Palma volcano shut down the island's airport on Saturday, as scientists said a volcanic vent had opened up exposing islanders to possible new dangers.
The intensity of the Cumbre Vieja Volcano eruption that began in September 19 has increased in recent days, prompting the evacuation of three additional villages on the island, part of Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean off northwest Africa.
Almost 7,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes to date. Scientists last week predicted the eruption could last up to 12 weeks so this figure could still increase.
The eruption is the first since 1971 on La Palma, which has a population of 85,000.
La Palma Airport was closed due to the accumulation of ash, operator Aena said. Other airports in the Canary Islands were still operating on Saturday but some airlines were suspending flights, Aena said.
Emergency crews pulled back from the volcano on Friday as explosions sent molten rock and ash over a wide area. The Canary Islands Volcanology Institute said another vent opened early Saturday.
Rivers of lava have been sliding down the mountainside toward the south-western coast of the island, destroying everything in their path, including hundreds of homes.
The speed of the flow has slowed down considerably, however, and the lava is now barely moving forward, with about two kilometres left to reach the sea, said Miguel Ángel Morcuende, head of the Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan.
“I don’t dare to tell you when it’s going to get there, nor do I dare to make a forecast,” Mr Morcuende told reporters in a news conference.
A more immediate concern for the residents of La Palma was the huge ash cloud rising from the volcano and being carried by the wind to other parts of the island.
In addition to being a significant danger to aviation, he said volcanic ash can cause damage to people’s airways, lungs and eyes. The local government has urged residents in affected areas to avoid going outside and only do so while wearing masks and goggles.