Canary Islands residents evacuated amid fears of seabed volcano eruption
People in port of La Restinga, on the island of El Hierro, affected after scientists report volcanic eruption three miles off coast
Giles Tremlett in Madrid
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 11 October 2011 18.48 BST
The regional government of the Canary Islands has begun evacuating the small town of La Restinga, on the island of El Hierro, and raised its earthquake warning level amid evidence that a volcano is erupting deep on the nearby seabed.
Approximately 600 inhabitants of the fishing port on the island’s south coast were being told to congregate at a local sports field for evacuation on Tuesday.
Scientists have reported that a volcanic eruption is taking place about 5km (3.1 miles) off the coast at a depth of 600 (1,960ft) to 1,000 metres.
The only visible evidence of the eruption is reported to be dead fish that have floated to the surface. The fish had probably been killed by gas escaping from the volcano, scientists said.
After months of continuous earth tremors on the island, vulcanologists had said there was a reasonable chance of an eruption somewhere near or under El Hierro.
That eruption seems to have started on Monday, pushing hot lava and gases up through the seabed.
With the eruption deep down and several miles away under the sea, the danger to local people and tourists who travel to La Restinga for the diving was considered to be minimal – but authorities today decided to carry out their evacuation plans in case that changed.
The decision was made “due to the possibility that the centre of the eruption might move closer to the coast,” the Canary Islands government said in a statement.
Regional government safety chief Juan Manuel Santana told reporters on Tuesday that raising the alert level from yellow to red – the second and third steps of a four-step system – was also a preventative measure.