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La Palma volcano: burning lava destroys at least 20 houses after thousands evacuated

Burning lava from a volcano which erupted on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma has destroyed at least 20 houses as it streamed through villages towards the coast.

About 500 tourists were among the 5,000 people who were evacuated from the path of the molten lava which poured in rivers towards houses and hotels in villages in the Cumbre Vieja national park in the south of the island.

Authorities said on Monday that at least 20 homes, some of them rental properties for tourists, had been engulfed by the lava in the village of El Paso.

Video footage showed the Spanish Civil Guard clearing people from their houses as the lava crept closer.

“It is unstoppable, we can do absolutely nothing other than to follow up so that there is no greater damage than we already know there will be,” Sergio Rodriguez, mayor of El Paso, told the Spanish state radio RNE.

Stavros Meletlidis, a doctor of volcanology at the Spanish Geographical Institute, said the eruption had torn five holes in the hillside and the situation could change at any moment.

"Eruptive dynamics can change in minutes,” he said.

About 5,000 people were evacuated after the eruption at 3:15 p.m local time on Sunday in the sparsely populated Cabeza de Vaca area, the islands’ government said.

Among those evacuated were about 500 tourists who had been staying at a hotel in the village of Puerto Naos.

Video footage showed orange rivers of molten rock pouring down the hill, tearing gashes into woods and farmland, and spreading as they reached lower ground.

“This is not going to be a short eruption,” Canary Islands President Angel Victor Torres told reporters on Monday.

At an earlier press conference on Sunday night, Mr Torres said that 5,000 people had been evacuated and no injuries had been reported so far.

He said that the lava was moving towards the coast and the damage would be material.

“According to experts there are about 17-20 million cubic meters of lava," he added.

Canary Islands’ local airline Binter said on Monday it cancelled four flights to and from the island of La Gomera after a volcanic eruption projected ashes and smoke on the neighbouring island of La Palma.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who arrived in La Palma, the most northwesterly island of the archipelago, was expected to meet the people who have been evacuated from their houses.

"We have all the resources (to deal with the eruption) and all the troops, the citizens can rest easy," he said on Sunday night.

La Palma had been on high alert after more than 22,000 tremors were reported in the space of a week in Cumbre Vieja, a chain of volcanoes that last had a major eruption in 1971 and is one of the most active volcanic regions in the Canaries.

In 1971, one man was killed as he was taking photographs near the lava flows, but no property was damaged.

The earliest recorded eruption in La Palma was in 1430, according to the Spanish National Geographical Institute.

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