Lava from volcano on Spain’s La Palma forces 800 to evacuate

Hundreds of people in Spain’s Canary Islands feared for their homes and property Wednesday as a new river of lava from an erupting volcano threatened another neighborhood on the island of La Palma.

Island authorities ordered the evacuation of around 800 people from the coastal town of Los Llanos de Aridane on Tuesday after the lava took a new course on its way to Atlantic Ocean and put their homes in a probable path of destruction. It was the first mass exit since around 6,000 people were told to leave immediately after the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on Sept. 19.

Volcanologists found that a new lava flow north of the main river of molten rock had branched off and was heading toward an inhabited area outside the previous evacuation zone.

"A part of the neighborhood had already been evacuated, but given the evolution of the lava stream, it was deemed necessary to clear this specific zone," Los Llano de Aridane Mayor María García told Spanish state broadcaster TVE.

Residents of the La Laguna neighborhood had only a few hours to gather up their most precious belongings and leave. Volunteers helped school employees salvage educational materials, while others loaded up cars and trucks with furniture. On Wednesday, police accompanied individual families who asked to go back into the exclusion zone to retrieve more belongings.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez traveled to the island on Wednesday, his fourth visit since the initial eruption.

"Unfortunately, the news we have from the scientific committee is that the volcano’s activity is not decreasing, so a reduction in its activity is not foreseeable in the coming days," Sánchez said. "I know it is tough after so many days and nights of suffering, but I ask you to remain patient because we can not do anything until the volcano stops."

Sánchez’s government has pledged 214 million euros ($247 million) to help rebuild homes, farms and businesses in the affected area.

The volcano that cracked open the Cumbre Vieja mountain ridge 24 days ago has now lasted longer than the previous eruption on La Palma in 1971. It is the third eruption on the island in the past century.

Most of those who had to leave their homes have found refuge with family or friends. Some 280 people are in a hotel. Authorities are working on buying empty or newly built homes for those whose dwellings have been destroyed.

La Palma is part of Spain’s Canary Islands, an Atlantic Ocean archipelago off northwest Africa whose economy depends on tourism and the cultivation of the Canary plantain.

Lava has destroyed over 1,400 buildings on the island, including homes, farms and other structures, and covered 656 hectares (1,621 acres), including 90 hectares (over 200 acres) of plantains. No lives have been lost.