Intensifying volcanic explosions on the Spanish island of La Palma forced firefighters to retreat and authorities to evacuate three more towns on Friday, while airlines cancelled flights due to a cloud of gas and ash, the biggest since the volcano erupted.
Firefighters pulled out of clean-up work in the town of Todoque on Friday afternoon as a new vent opened up in the flank of the volcano and a massive shockwave emanating from the eruption site could be heard on videos shared to social media.
A Reuters witness saw a huge grey cloud billowing from the top of the volcano on Friday afternoon, the largest since the eruption began on Sunday.
“The volcano is in a newly explosive phase … Firefighters will not operate anymore today,” tweeted the Tenerife fire service, which has been deployed to help on La Palma.
Authorities ordered the evacuation of the towns of Tajuya, Tacande de Abajo and the part of Tacande de Arriba that had not already been evacuated on Friday afternoon, with residents told to assemble at the local football ground.
Canary Islands emergency services initially told residents to stay indoors to avoid the dense cloud of ash and lava fragments, but they later decided to evacuate due to the heightened risk from explosions.
It wasn’t just people being evacuated, but animals, too.
“The evacuation of people is the main priority … although there are also other important tasks such as keeping pets safe,” the Guardia Civil tweeted, with a video showing officers carrying reluctant goats to safety.
Since erupting on Sunday, the Cumbre Vieja volcano has spewed out thousands of tons of lava, destroyed hundreds of houses and forced thousands to evacuate their homes.
No serious injuries or fatalities have been reported, but about 15 per cent of the island’s economically crucial banana crop could be at risk, jeopardizing thousands of jobs.
Canary Island airline Binter said on Friday it had cancelled all flights to La Palma due to the volcano eruption, while Iberia cancelled its only flight scheduled for the day, and another local airline, Canaryfly, also suspended operations.
Binter said it was forced to halt operations to and from La Palma as the ash cloud had worsened considerably in the last few hours.
The airline, which had initially only cancelled night flights, could not say when it would resume operations.
A cloud of toxic gas and ash from the eruptions extends more than four kilometres into the sky, the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute said on Thursday.
It has begun to drift northeast toward the Mediterranean and Spanish mainland, the national weather agency said.
Airspace above the island remains open apart from two small areas near the eruption site.