Red hot lava spews from La Palma volcano as eruption intensifies

Lava and smoke rise following the eruption of a volcano on the Canary Island of La Palma

By Guillermo Martinez and Jon Nazca

LA PALMA (Reuters) – Rivers of lava raced down the volcano and exploded high into the air overnight on the Spanish island of La Palma and the airport was closed as an eruption intensified and entered its most explosive phase so far.

Since it began erupting on Sunday on the small island in the Atlantic, the Cumbre Vieja volcano has spewed out thousands of tons of lava, destroyed hundreds of houses and forced the evacuation of nearly 6,000 people.

Authorities said on Saturday that the 160 people evacuated from three more towns on Friday would not be able to return to their homes to retrieve their belongings because of the “evolution of the volcanic emergency”.

Experts said the volcano had entered a new explosive phase.

“Volcanic surveillance measurements carried out since the beginning of the eruption recorded the highest-energy activity so far during Friday afternoon,” emergency services said in a statement on Friday evening.

Spanish airport operator Aena said on Saturday the island's airport had been closed.

La Palma airport is inoperative due to ash accumulation. Cleaning tasks have started, but the situation may change at any time,” it tweeted.

La Palma, with a population of over 83,000, is one of an archipelago making up the Canary Islands.

On Friday, firefighters retreated from clean-up work in the town of Todoque, airlines cancelled flights, and authorities evacuated the towns of Tajuya, Tacande de Abajo and the part of Tacande de Arriba that had not already been evacuated after a new vent opened up in the flank of the volcano.

Videos shared on social media showed a massive shockwave emanating from the eruption site on Friday.

No serious injuries or fatalities have been reported in the volcano's eruption, but about 15% of the island's economically crucial banana crop could be at risk, jeopardising thousands of jobs.

(Reporting by Reporting by Guillermo Martinez and Marco Trujillo in La Palma; Writing by Jessica Jones; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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