Volcanic ash cloud closes airport on Spanish island, as new vent prompts concern

The airport on the Spanish island of La Palma shut down on Saturday because of an ash cloud spewing out of a volcano that has been erupting for a week, and scientists said another volcanic vent opened up, exposing islanders to possible new dangers.

The intensity of the eruption that began Sept. 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.

The recent volcanic eruption is the first since 1971 on La Palma, which has a population of 85,000.

La Palma Airport operator Aena said the airport was “inoperative” due to the accumulation of ash. Other airports in the Canary Islands were still operating on Saturday but some airlines were suspending flights, Aena said.

Mauricio, 40, throws ash from his house in front of the closed airport on Saturday. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

Tourists wait for the ferry to leave the island on Saturday after the airport was closed. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

People watch as lava and smoke rise following the eruption of the volcano on La Palma, in La Laguna, Spain, on Saturday. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

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 southwestern coast of the island, destroying everything in their path, including hundreds of homes.

A man throws ash from the top of his house after cleaning it in La Laguna on Saturday, as smoke rises in the background after the volcano erupted. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

Volcanic ash covers the ground in El Paso, Spain, on Saturday. The text reads ‘Run Paco!’ (Jon Nazca/Reuters)

A woman uses an umbrella to cover herself from falling ash in El Paso on Saturday. (Jon Nazca/Reuters)

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 Angel Morcuende, head of the Canary Island 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,” Morcuende told reporters at a news conference.

WATCH | Drone video shows ‘miracle house’ untouched by lava: 

Drone video shows ‘miracle house’ untouched by lava on La Palma island

A patch of land on Spain’s La Palma island contains what has been dubbed the ‘miracle house.’ It’s a single home untouched by rivers of lava from the Cumbre Vieja volcano that have engulfed the area. (Credit: Reuters/Alfonso Edcalero/I Love the World) 0:30

A more immediate concern for the residents of La Palma is the huge ash cloud that is 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 wearing masks and goggles.

Jorge, a farmer, looks at the smoke of the volcano on Saturday as he harvests sweet potatoes, the only undamaged produce from his ash-covered plot of land in Los Llanos de Aridane on La Palma. (Desiree Martin/AFP/Getty Images)

Two people walk as lava spews from the volcano on La Palma in the early hours of Saturday. (Daniel Roca/The Associated Press)

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