Iceland blows its top. Again.

 

Grindavík volcano

Iceland blew its top last week. And then it calmed down.

This was the third eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula in the last three years. It was the most spectacular – and the briefest – to date.

The volcano erupted on the evening of 18th December. Rather than a classic conical volcano, this eruption site is a four-kilometre-long fissure which threw a wall of fire into the air and spewed lava over the mountainside.

Within twenty-four hours the ferocity of the eruption had diminished and it was declared over after only three days. The first eruption, at nearby Fagradalsfjall, lasted months.



Volcano near Grindavík photo AFP/Viken Kantarci
photo AFP/Viken Kantarci

Grindavík

The site is only three kilometres from Grindavík – see photo above. The fissure actually stretches under the centre of the town and for a couple of days in early November, it looked as if Grindavík itself might erupt. That doesn’t mean lava flowing down onto the town like it did at Herculaneum, say, but rather lava bursting up from beneath the streets and houses.

Scary if you are a resident. The town and the nearby Blue Lagoon tourist destination were evacuated in early November. By last week, the threat seemed to have diminished and residents were allowed back into town for brief periods during the day.

On Sunday the Blue Lagoon opened up again to tourists, and the following evening a hotelier who had defied the authorities and spent the night in Grindavík appeared on TV to declare that the emergency services were a bunch of wusses. The volcano erupted that night.

I was in Grindavík in October. The town is about 50 km from Reykjavík on the south coast of the peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic to the west of the capital, and 15km south of the main road to the airport, just beyond the Blue Lagoon. The town has a population of about 4,000 people.  It is not exactly picturesque – it’s a serious fishing town with many storage and processing sheds and equipment. 

It’s also where Gunnhildur lives, the police officer in Quentin Bates’s excellent crime novels.

Evacuation

Back in November, the residents were told to evacuate in the middle of the night with no warning. Although they have been allowed back briefly, the situation does not look good. Their town might erupt again at any moment.  From 23 December, residents were allowed back overnight over the Christmas period, but now the authorities think there may be another eruption on New Year's Eve.  I can't help feeling very sorry for the Grindavíkers.    

Needless to say, Icelanders pulled together to provide accommodation for the evacuees, including foreign workers who have no local support network of friends and relatives.

Amazingly, there have been no deaths directly resulting from the three eruptions so far. But it isn’t surprising that one hiker had to be airlifted to safety after hiking to the volcano and becoming disoriented.

Tongue Twisting

You thought Eyjafjallajökull was bad! This one is called Sundhnjúkargígaröd. I am practising. Snood–hnurr–gigglegarod? I’ll get it eventually.

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