Volcano Lava Flow Forces Thousands on Small Island to Evacuate, Causes Millions in Damage

Lava from a volcanic eruption has forced thousands of residents of a small Spanish island off northwest Africa to evacuate and caused millions of dollars' worth of damage, according to the Associated Press.

About 6,000 residents of La Palma have been evacuated so far, government spokeswoman Isabel Rodríguez said after a Cabinet meeting in Madrid. At least 183 houses have been damaged, and the lava flow is gradually approaching the more densely populated coastline.

Damage caused by the lava has already amounted to more than 400 million euros ($470 million), said Ángel Víctor Torres, head of the Canary Islands regional government. He said the amount would qualify the region for emergency financial assistance from the European Union, according to the AP. Authorities plan to ask for aid to rebuild.

Torres described the region as a "catastrophe zone" and said the requested money would be used to rebuild road and water supply networks, as well as temporary accommodations for families who lost their homes and farmlands.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

La Palma Volcano
Smoke rises from cooling lava after the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on the Canary island of La Palma on Tuesday. Jose Maria Montesdeoca/AFP via Getty Images

Officials said a river of lava was bearing down on the neighborhood of Todoque, where more than 1,000 people live and where emergency services were preparing evacuations.

"The truth is that it's a tragedy to see people losing their properties," said municipal worker Fernando Díaz in the town of El Paso, though he noted that people were also suffering by not knowing the fate of their homes as police kept people away from the lava flows.

"For the lucky ones they would have some peace in knowing that their homes haven't been affected," he said. "This uncertainty is complicated."

The new vent is 900 meters (3,000 feet) north of the Cumbre Vieja ridge, where the volcano first erupted after a week of thousands of small earthquakes.

That so-called earthquake swarm gave authorities warning that an eruption was likely and allowed many people to be evacuated, avoiding casualties.

The new fissure opened after what the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute said was a 3.8-magnitude quake late Monday.

La Palma, with a population of some 85,000 people, is part of the volcanic Canary Islands.

Lava by Tuesday had covered 106 hectares (about 260 acres) of terrain, according to the European Union's Earth Observation Program, Copernicus.

Unstoppable rivers of lava, as much as six meters (nearly 20 feet) high, rolled down hillsides, burning and crushing everything in their path.

Spain's King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia are due to visit the affected area on Thursday.

Authorities said the pace of the lava's advance appeared to have slowed and they didn't expect it to reach the sea before Wednesday at the earliest, Spanish private news agency Europa Press reported.

When it reaches the Atlantic Ocean, it could cause explosions and produce clouds of toxic gas. Scientists monitoring the lava measured its temperature at more than 1,000 Celsius (more than 1,800 F).

Scientists say the lava flows could last for weeks or months. The volcano has been spewing out between 8,000 and 10,500 tons of sulfur dioxide a day, the Volcanology Institute said.

Volcano Canary Islands
Lava erupts from the volcano on the island of La Palma on Monday. Europa Press via AP