(CMR) Over 5000 people, including hundreds of tourists, had to be evacuated from La Palma, the most northwestern island of Spain's Canary Islands, on Sunday as it experienced the first volcanic eruption in 50 years.
The volcano erupted on Sunday, shooting lava hundreds of meters into the air, engulfing houses and forests, and sending molten rock towards the Atlantic Ocean over a sparsely populated area of La Palma, Reuters reported.
However, on Monday, Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto sparked controversy when she announced that the Canary Islands were safe to visit despite people losing their homes and fleeing for their lives.
Maroto described the volcano as a “wonderful show”.
“There are no restrictions on going to the island … on the contrary, we're passing on the information so tourists know they can travel to the island and enjoy something unusual, see it for themselves,” she said.
According to Reuters, Maroto's remarks drew immediate criticism from Teodoro Garcia Egea, secretary-general of the opposition People's Party, who posted to Twitter asking, “Can someone confirm the minister said that while hundreds of people are losing everything they have?”
About 360 tourists were evacuated from a resort in La Palma following the eruption and taken to the nearby island of Tenerife by boat on Monday. More tourists were expected to be evacuated Monday.
The lava flow has destroyed about 100 houses so far, Mariano Hernandez, president of La Palma's council, told local media.
About 20 houses were engulfed in the village of El Paso along with sections of roads, Mayor Sergio Rodriguez told state broadcaster TVE. The lava was spreading through neighboring villages, putting hundreds more at risk, he said.