Spanish authorities began the evacuation of people with reduced mobility on the Atlantic island of La Palma on Sunday as experts warned of stronger earthquakes and the sustained threat of a volcanic eruption.
While government experts said that an eruption is not yet imminent, there has been an intensification of earthquakes near the surface of the island, which belongs to the Canary Islands archipelago.
Authorities ordered the evacuation of residents with reduced mobility from villages near the centre of the seismic activity as a preventative measure. Some will be taken in at a military outpost on the island.
A 3.8-magnitude quake was recorded Sunday as vibrations from the seismic activity were felt on the surface. The Scientific Committee of the Volcano Risk Prevention Plan said that stronger earthquakes “are likely to be felt and may cause damage to buildings.” The committee of scientific experts also signalled out a stretch of the island’s southwest coast for the risk of rockfalls.
Emergency services have been ordered to be prepared to evacuate around 1,000 people if necessary, authorities said.
La Palma has been on alert this week after geologists reported an accumulation of molten rock under Cumbre Vieja, a dormant volcanic ridge near the island’s southern tip. Its last eruption was in 1971.
Volcano warnings are announced in accordance with the level of risk, rising through green, yellow, orange and red. The current yellow level requires residents in at-risk zone to be prepared to evacuate. Residents are also asked to report any sightings of gases, ash, changes in water levels or small tremors to emergency services.
Spanish geologists have been tracking the buildup of an “earthquake swarm” around La Palma for a week. An earthquake swarm is a cluster of quakes in one area during a short period and can indicate an approaching eruption.
Before a volcano erupts, there is a gradual increase in seismic activity that can build up over a prolonged period.
La Palma, with a population of 85,000, is one of eight islands in the Canary Islands archipelago. At their nearest point to Africa, they are 100 kilometres from Morocco.