A volcanic eruption hits a port city: houses start burning

Lava from a volcano that erupted near the fishing port of Grindavik in southwest Iceland on Sunday set fire to three houses in the area, whose residents had been evacuated hours earlier.

This is Iceland's fifth volcanic eruption in nearly three years, with the previous one occurring in the same area on the evening of December 18. But the lava did not reach homes for 51 years. Seismic activity intensified during the night and a few dozen residents who had resettled at the end of December in this small town about forty km southwest of Reykjavík were evacuated around 3:00 a.m. local time (4:00 a.m. in Belgium). .)

Two fissures later opened, one about 400 meters from the town at 8:00 a.m., and another at the edge of the first houses at noon, spewing out large flows of bright orange lava, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO).

In the afternoon, the first two houses were hit by the burning volcano and immediately caught fire, sending out huge plumes of black smoke, according to images from surveillance cameras broadcast by Icelandic public television. A third house was later burnt down.

“In a small town like this, we're all like family, we all know each other like family, so it's a tragedy to see this happen.” Responding AFP Sveinn Ari Gudjonsson, 55, who lives in Grindavik, was evacuated in November. “It's unreal. It's like watching a movie.”He adds that he works in the fishing industry.

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“Black Day”

Speaking at a press conference, Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdóttir expressed regret “A dark day for Grindavik and all of Iceland.” “But the sun will rise again”, She promised. “We will face this trauma together.”

Grindavik, home to 4,000 people, was evacuated on November 11 as a precaution after hundreds of earthquakes triggered by the movement of magma beneath the Earth's crust – a precursor to a volcanic eruption.

These earthquakes damaged the city, creating large cracks in roads and houses and public buildings. “The last time lava reached homes was 51 years ago”President Gudney Johansson recalled during a rare speech on public television. “We hope things will calm down and everyone can come back but (…) everything is possible. We have to be optimistic”he added.

Shortly after the December 18 outbreak, residents were briefly allowed to return to Grindavik, then permanently evacuated from December 23, during the night from Saturday to Sunday. Only a few dozen residents returned to their homes. Authorities on Saturday evening issued an order to evacuate the city by Monday due to the seismic activity and its impact on existing fissures in the city. So they had to pick up speed at night.


The decision came as a surprise after the 51-year-old Icelander disappeared on Wednesday while working on a private garden.
The man, who was not found, fell more than thirty meters into the crevasse. Authorities are closely monitoring the Schwarzenegger geothermal power plant located in the same area, which supplies electricity and water to about 30,000 people living in the area, and whose installations are protected by a wall.

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Until the March 2021 eruption, the Reykjanes peninsula, south of the capital Reykjavík, had been spared eruptions for eight centuries.

Between August 2022 and July 2023, December 18, 2023 and this Sunday morning, volcanologists had four signs of a resumption of volcanic activity in the region.

Four days after the Dec. 18 eruption, officials announced that volcanic activity had stopped, but could not say whether the eruption was over due to the possibility of lava flowing underground. Thirty-three volcanic systems are thought to be active in this country of fire and ice, the most volcanic region in Europe.

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