Officials on Spain's El Hierro Island in the Canaries said on Tuesday that they are evacuating some 600 residents from a small coastal town due to volcanic activity in the area.
Spain's Instituto Geografico Nacional (IGN) confirmed on Tuesday that an underwater eruption is occurring 3 miles (5km) off the southern coastline of El Hierro, the smallest of the Canary Islands, which are located in the Atlantic off the coast of Morocco.
El Hierro has experienced over 10,000 earthquakes since July 19, a sign that magma is rising towards the Earth's surface.
The volcanic eruption is Spain's first since the 1971 eruption of the Teneguia Volcano on the nearby island of La Palma.
IGN confirmed that all three of its seismic stations on El Hierro registered low frequency volcanic tremors in the south of the island at the southernmost village in the Canaries, La Restinga. Residents of the town were summoned to a football field on Tuesday where they were briefed on evacuation procedures.
Facing a change in the seismic event that is affecting El Hierro Island, and as a preventative measure, we are carrying out the relocation of the population of La Restinga, a local government spokesman said in a statement.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero met with his cabinet for an emergency briefing on the developments Tuesday evening.
Meanwhile, 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 a preventative measure.
Initial reports of the eruption came in from crews aboard four separate ships who noticed the presence of dead fish floating on the surface on Monday. The fish had likely been killed by gas escaping from the volcano, scientists said.
The present volcanic activity is believed to be occurring at a depth of nearly 2,000 feet (600 meters) below sea level.
Scientists from ING, CSIC, and the University of Cadiz are trying to determine if the subsea volcanic vent is widening and, if so, if it is widening in the direction of El Hierro.
According to local media agency Canarias7, Government authorities have suspended ferry activities to and from island. The local English-language daily, Island Connections, reports that the Port Authority has ordered all ships to stay away from the area:
The maritime chief for the province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife Antonio Padrón has issued a recommendation that boats should not sail closer than four miles off El Hierro. Divers have also been told to suspend all activities.
El Hierro, which means iron is Spanish, was designated by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve in 2000 with 60% of its territory protected. Although over 200 years have elapsed since the last eruption, El Hierro has the largest number of volcanoes in the Canaries with over 500 open sky cones, another 300 covered by the most recent outflows, and some 70 caves and volcanic galleries, according to ElHierro.com.
El Hiero is currently the most volcanically active of the Canary Islands.
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