Since last Saturday, Portugal’s Azores islands have experienced more than 14,000 earthquakes, causing thousands to leave their homes ahead of what appears to be an impending disaster.

Scientists fear that the small tremors, which have varied between 1.9 to 3.3 in magnitude on the Richter scale, could trigger a very powerful earthquake or a major volcanic eruption for the first time since 1808.

Also read | Colorado wildfire: 19,000 people asked to evacuate as blaze spreads

An eruption does appear to be on the cards, as the region’s CIVISA seismo-volcanic surveillance centre has raised its volcano alert level to 4, indicating that there is a “real possibility” of an eruption for the first time in over two centuries. However, the centre has also clarified that while an eruption is “not imminent,” the possibility of such a scenario unfolding cannot be discarded.

In light of the recent seismic activity in the Azores, which is an autonomous region of Portugal comprising nine islands, the administration has activated its emergency plan and is prepared to evacuate all 8,400 people from Sao Jorge, the main island. As many as 1,500 have already left their homes by air or sea, with many unsure of when they will be able to return.

“I’m scared to death, not just for myself, but for everyone who lives there [on Sao Jorge]. It’s hard,” Reuters quoted Brazilian restaurateur Kelly Fonseca as saying. Fonseca had moved to the islands in search of a better life, and is among the thousands who have fled over the past couple of days.

Also read | Louisiana National Guard deployed after tornadoes batter New Orleans

The sudden increase in seismic activity around the mid-Atlantic Azores archipelago is also reminiscent of the multiple earthquakes detected prior to the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the La Palma island in Spain in 2021, located some 1,400 kilometres from the Azores archipelago.

That eruption lasted for nearly a 100 days, from September 19 to December 13, destroying crops and property across thousands of acres.