MADRID, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez confirmed on Monday that human lives were not in danger during the eruption of a volcano on the island of La Palma in Spain's Canary Islands on Sunday afternoon.
Sanchez postponed a planned visit to New York and flew to the island after the Cumbre Vieja volcano there erupted at approximately 3:12 p.m. local time, spewing lava high in the air from a series of vents opened after over 20,000 seismic events in the preceding week.
Televised images showed lava spewing hundreds of feet into the air and a series of lava flows trickling down hillside, prompting the evacuation of over 5,000 people from the nearby municipalities of El Paso, Tazacorte and Los Llanos de Aridane, which lie roughly between the hillside where the eruption is taking place and the sea.
Speaking to journalists following his arrival, Sanchez insisted that "people's safety is guaranteed".
"We have to explain to the citizens of La Palma that their safety is guaranteed. We have been working for a week in anticipation of how to act when the eruption occurred," Sanchez said, adding that "civil guards, police, fire brigade, Red Cross and the Spanish Military's Emergency Response Unit" had all been deployed to the island.
Speaking on Spanish national radio station RNE early on Monday morning, Angel Victor Torres, regional president of the Canary Islands, explained that "houses have been affected, although we don't know how many," by the eruption.
Torres said the eruptions from the volcano would continue, and "in 48 hours we will know how long it will last", although he added that he did not expect it to be a short eruption.
He explained that there were "two rivers of lava flowing to the sea, and they could join together".
Nemesio Perez, the director of the Volcanology Institute of the Canary Islands (INVOLCAN), predicted in an interview with the Cadena Ser radio station that the eruption could last for "weeks or a few months", with the exact duration determined by the amount of magma that has accumulated in the volcano's "reservoir".
"It could be three or five kilometers deep and connected to another reservoir of 20 to 30 kilometers and the fact that this could feed the original source could mean that the eruption lasts longer," Perez said.
La Palma has a surface area of just over 700 square kilometers and a population of almost 85,000 people. The area has experienced seven recorded eruptions since records began. The last two eruptions were in 1949 and 1971, with the latter one lasting ten days. It claimed one life after a man got too close to a lava flow while taking photographs.