HomeWorld NewsVolcanic eruption threatens Icelandic town with lava flows

Volcanic eruption threatens Icelandic town with lava flows

A volcano erupted in southwestern Iceland on Sunday after a series of earthquakes in the early morning, the country’s meteorological office said — threatening to overcome the nearby coastal town of Grindavik with streams of slow-moving lava.

The lava posed no threat to human life but could still wreak damage on the town, said Icelandic President Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson. “The town had already been successfully evacuated overnight and no lives are in danger, although infrastructure may be under threat,” he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The eruption began around 8 a.m. local time on Iceland’s southern peninsula, officials said, near where an eruption prompted the evacuation of the town’s nearly 4,000 residents last month.

A volcano erupted in Grindavík, southwest Iceland after a series of earthquakes throughout the early morning, Iceland’s metereological office said Jan. 14. (Video: Reuters)

Photos of Sunday’s eruption, taken from a Coast Guard helicopter and shared by Icelandic police officials, showed lava flowing toward the town and lighting up the night sky, threatening to swallow roads, machinery and buildings in its path. About an hour after the eruption began, officials said, lava had reached within 1,500 feet of Grindavik’s northernmost buildings.

Live footage aired by national broadcaster RUV showed bubbling lava spewing smoke into the air, filling up the sky above the town. As the sun rose, photographs from the helicopter showed glowing lava encroaching on the edge of the town’s built-up areas.

In an interview with national broadcaster RUV, seismologist Kristin Jonsdottir estimated that the lava would still take hours to reach the town even if it continued to flow in the same direction. “What matters is where the lava is flowing. It is very important now to monitor it,” she said. The eruption is around one-quarter the size of last month’s in the same area, she added.

Iceland’s meteorological agency reported that a fissure had cracked the earth open around 3,000 feet from the town, southeast of the Hagafell mountain. The fissure straddled both sides of a defensive barrier that authorities were constructing to protect Grindavik from lava flows, officials said.

“The opening is south of lava flow deflection barriers that are being built north of Grindavik. Lava is now flowing towards the town,” the agency’s statement read.

According to RUV, the lava flow was close to subsuming a commercial greenhouse on Sunday morning. “It’s only a matter of time before it goes under,” it reported. Workers were dispatched to salvage machinery being used to build the lava deflection barriers, the outlet reported.

According to the meteorological office, earthquakes shook the area starting around 3 a.m. on Sunday morning. Officials said the level of seismic activity was comparable to that recorded ahead of a Dec. 18 eruption, although Sunday’s tremors were farther south. Police urged people not to approach the lava fountain by foot, warning that the ground was unstable and that cracks and gases posed dangerous risks.

Iceland volcano erupts after weeks of warnings and a town’s evacuation

On Saturday, Iceland’s civil protection agency said police began evacuating Grindavik residents as a temporary measure after a risk assessment found that the town was unsafe. Authorities said vacationers in the nearby Svartsengi area, where Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon is located, had been evacuated.

On Sunday morning, Iceland raised the public safety alert level from “danger” to “emergency.”

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