MADRID -- The airport on the Spanish island of La Palma shut down 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.
Emergency crews pulled back from the volcano 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. The speed of the flow has slowed down considerably, however, and the lava is now barely moving forward, with about 2 kilometers left to reach the sea, said Miguel Ángel 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 in a news conference.
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.