Canary Islands eruption triggers US tsunami fears

Japan tsunami

The first volcanic eruptions for 200 years off El Hierro prompt fears of landlsides

BY Jonathan Harwood LAST UPDATED AT 16:32 ON Wed 12 Oct 2011

UNDERWATER earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in the Canary Islands have led to evacuations on the island of El Hierro, the most south westerly of the Atlantic chain, amid concerns about landslides.
 
The volcanic activity is the first in the Canary Islands since 1971, when there were eruptions on La Palma to the north. The last eruptions on El Hierro took place in 1793, but a series of minor earthquakes at the end of last month prompted concerns that there was a new eruption looming.

Vulcanologists now believe that an eruption began on Monday around five kilometres off the coast at a depth of about one kilometre. Dead fish, killed by gas escaping from the seabed, have been seen floating in the water.
 
This news would not be of much interest to anyone but geologists, Canary Islanders and tourism operators were it not for a controversial theory that claims a landslide in the Canary Islands could cause a mega-tsunami that would wipe out New York and much of America's eastern seaboard and devastate the Caribbean and parts of south America.
 
An infamous edition of the BBC documentary Horizon in 2000 explained that if earthquakes or volcanic eruptions struck La Palma, there was a possibility that a large part of the island would slide into the ocean and trigger the huge tidal wave that would travel across the Atlantic in six hours and destroy the east coast.
 
The findings of the scientists behind the claims have been dismissed by many, but the onset of seismic activity in El Hierro, less than 100 miles from La Palma, has got messageboards buzzing. Some posters say they plan to evacuate their homes on the US east coast.
 
And it is not just the prospect of a tsunami caused by a landslide at La Palma that is causing concern. It has been reported that a collapse on El Hierro some 50,000 years ago may have caused a 300ft high wave that would have reached America. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.