A volcano which has been erupting on La Palma for five weeks is now more active than ever, officials have said, after a partial collapse of the crater brought a powerful new river of lava to previously unaffected areas.

The Canary Islands Volcanology Institute described it as “a giant lava fountain” after it gushed out of the Cumbre Vieja volcano early on Monday.

“We’re in a new phase, which is much more intense,” Pedro Hernandez, a researcher at the institute, told public broadcaster RTVE.

The eruption drove a volcanic ash cloud high over the island off northwest Africa.

Residents watched to see what direction the new lava flow would take, and authorities prepared to move more people from their homes.

Prompt evacuations have so far avoided any casualties from the eruption, though the lava has totally or partially destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, mostly homes, and covered more than 900 hectares (2,200 acres) of mostly farmland.

Around 7,500 of the island’s 85,500 inhabitants have been forced to flee in the past five weeks.

The rivers of lava rolling down the hillside are up to almost 3km (nearly two miles) wide, authorities said.

New fissures and side vents cracked open along the volcano’s slopes over the weekend, allowing more molten rock to escape.

One main river of lava has already reached the Atlantic Ocean and another ground to a halt when it entered a built-up coastal neighbourhood.

Scientists last week counted more than 800 earthquakes of varying magnitude on La Palma, most of them not felt by residents.

The strongest had a magnitude of 4.9.

Though most of the island so far is unaffected by the eruption, parts of the western side where the lava fields are expanding face an uncertain future.

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