Volcanic eruption in Iceland pours lava into town and sets

Volcanic eruption in Iceland pours lava into town and sets houses on fire – BBC.com

  • By Ruth Comerford
  • BBC News

January 14, 2024

Updated 21 minutes ago

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Watch: Volcanic lava sets house on fire in Iceland

Houses have been set on fire in the Icelandic town of Grindavik after two volcanic fissures opened nearby.

In the early hours of Sunday, a volcano on the Reykjanes Peninsula erupted, pouring lava into the fishing village.

According to one expert, the outbreak is proving to be “the worst-case scenario,” with the city’s entire population evacuated.

Defenses built after an eruption in December were able to partially contain the lava, but some were breached.

The main road into town was cut off by the lava flow. On Monday, Icelandic authorities said the flow of molten rock appeared to have slowed.

In a live broadcast on Sunday evening, Iceland's President Gudni Johannesson urged people to “stand together and have compassion for those who cannot be in their homes.”

He said he hoped the situation would calm down, but that “anything could happen,” AFP news agency reported.

The eruption in the Svartsengi volcanic system in December was preceded by strong earthquakes. In the weeks that followed, walls were built around the volcano to channel molten rock away from Grindavik, home to about 4,000 people.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) said the barriers were breached in some places, allowing lava to enter the city, which then set fire to houses and buildings.

There was no evidence of disruption to domestic or international flights following the outbreak. The IMO aviation color code on the Reykjanes Peninsula was orange on Monday morning, indicating an ongoing eruption with “no or low ash emissions.”

Flights from nearby Keflavik Airport ran as usual.

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A volcano spews lava and smoke as it erupts on the Reykjanes Peninsula

People who returned to Grindavik in southwest Iceland after the previous eruption had to leave their homes again.

“Watching your house burn down on live TV is something you can't easily deal with,” Unndpr Sigurthsson, whose family home was destroyed, told MBL. She said her family left almost all of their belongings behind when they evacuated, with only clothing and essential items remaining.

Volcanologist Evgenia Ilyinskaya told BBC Breakfast that the peninsula is likely to enter a period of frequent eruptions known as the New Reykjanes Fires.

Prof Ilyinskaya said eruptions could occur “every few months or once a year over several decades or several centuries”.

The Reykjanes Fires were a series of intense volcanic activity on the peninsula in the 12th century.

Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said the government would meet on Monday to discuss housing measures for the evacuated residents.

“Today is a black day for Grindavik and today is a black day for all of Iceland, but the sun will rise again,” she said.

“Together we will overcome this shock and whatever may come. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

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Lava spreads across the Reykjanes Peninsula

The country's alert level has been raised to “emergency” – the highest of three levels indicating there is a risk of harm to people, communities, property or the environment.

Sunday's eruption is the fifth since 2021 on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Iceland lies above the so-called Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the boundary between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates – two of the largest on the planet. Iceland has 33 active volcanic systems.