Volcano threat sparks evacuation in Canaries
Police evacuated residents and tourists from houses at the foot of a volcano on Spain's Canary Islands after a growing series of earthquakes raised fears of an eruption, officials and locals said Wednesday.
With the Pico de Malpaso mountain spitting rocks intermittently and a growing rumbling underground, authorities made emergency preparations in case the volcano blows its top on the Atlantic island of El Hierro.
"I have never felt shaking like it," said Herminio Barrera, 25, a mechanic in the town of La Frontera. "I notice it especially at night. We can also hear a rumbling and sounds from deep down."
A municipal official who asked not to be named told AFP that 53 residents and tourists had been evacuated to protect them from the occasional flying volcanic rock and the defence ministry said it was preparing emergency shelter for 2,000 people.
"I am staying calm but there are people who are more worried, particularly those with children," Barrera told AFP. "We are very close to the mountain. My father-in-law left yesterday."
The Canary Islands regional government said it was in a state of pre-alert and was stocking drinking water and medical supplies, but officials played down any risk of a disaster.
"We will not have to evacuate the island," population 11,000, said the head of the island's local council, Alpidio Armas. "The number of tremors has increased, but most of them are in the sea."
The municipal official said the authorities did not expect an "imminent eruption" and the island's official risk alert for the 1,500-metre (4,9200-foot) peak remained on yellow, or intermediate.
The national defence ministry said it had sent 31 military personnel to the island to help with the evacuation and Defence Minister Carme Chacon was heading there to inspect the emergency preparations.
The Spanish National Geographic Institute has recorded 8,000 tremors since July 19, most of them too small to be felt, but they have been growing in intensity. One recorded overnight on Wednesday reached 3.4 magnitude.
"We have not seen this kind of movement with such frequency on El Hierro since records began" more than a century ago, said a spokeswoman for the Canary Islands government, Ana Vidal.
The last volcanic eruption on the Canary Islands was on nearby La Palma in 1971, she said.
The evacuation disrupted the holidays of a number of tourists, including Tuengen Maier, 62, from Germany, who said he and his wife would spend the rest of their holiday on nearby Tenerife.
"We were having some wine yesterday evening when the Civil Guard told us to leave the house because we were too close to the mountain," he told AFP by telephone on Wednesday.
"We are just going to pick up our luggage this morning. This is too dangerous. We cannot stay."
© 2011 AFP