Tags: Iceland | volcano | eruption | residents

Iceland Volcano Spews Huge Eruption

Sunday, 21 March 2010 07:39 PM EDT

HVOLSVOELLUR - Iceland's first volcanic eruption in six years sent lava and ashes into the air, forcing hundreds to flee their homes and halting flights, but caused no damage or casualties.

Smoke could be seen rising from behind Eyjafjallajoekull glacier and volcanic ash filled the sky after the eruption that began around midnight on Sunday following three weeks of localised earthquakes.

The eruption occurred in a remotely populated area about 125 kilometres (75 miles) east of Iceland's capital Reykjavik and caused 600 people to flee their homes.

It also brought to a halt all flights into and out of the Nordic island nation, but they resumed with serious delays mid-day Sunday, while domestic traffic started up again late in the afternoon.

The risk of floods posed by melting glacial ice prompted the authorities to declare a state of emergency and to immediately evacuate the area.

It was the first volcanic eruption in Iceland since 2004, and the first in the vicinty of Eyjafjallajoekull, in the south of the island, since 1823.

"We did not have time to be afraid and everyone was so calm and stoical," said farmer Thorhildur Bjarnadottir, 51, who received the evacuation order by text message on her mobile phone.

"We went right away and checked on our neighbours in the nearby farms," she added, explaining meetings had been held during the summer on what to do in case of an eruption.

"The worst part in all of this is to leave our animals behind at home," her husband added.

Local police chief Kjartan Thorkelsson told AFP the evacuation plan went well, although some farmers reportedly refused to leave their homes.

He said almost all area residents, except those living on 14 farms still at risk, were allowed to return home late in the afternoon.

"We are allowing almost all of the 600 inhabitants to return to their homes... All roads have now been opened" he said, adding "there is still an official situation of danger because of the volcanic eruption".

Significant floods were avoided because the fissure eruption occurred between two large glaciers, Eyjafjallajoekull and Myrdalsjoekull, said Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson, a professor of geophysics and civil protection advisor.

"We are extremely lucky that the eruption did not occur underneath the glacier, so therefore a gigantic glacier flood did not occur," Gudmundsson said.

With about 15 magma exits at the fissure, he said, and the volcano "is not a big eruption" by Icelandic standards.

But Gudmundsson warned that extreme caution had to be exercised, because the eruption was taking place so close to two large glaciers.

"The eruption could end within one or two days, but also within one or two years," he told reporters.

Thorkelsson said no damages related to the eruption had been reported.

"There is almost no measureable quantity of volcanic ash that fell to the ground," he said.

Following eruptions, volcanic ash often falls to the ground, damaging vehicules.

The Red Cross set up an emergency telephone line and opened three evacuation centres in the towns of Hella, Hvolsvoellur and Vik to help people displaced by the eruption.

Bjoerk Valdimarsdottir, whose sister lives in the vicinity of the eruption, told Swedish news website dn.se the glow from the eruption could be seen near the capital, where she lives.

"There are lots of people who want to go there to take a look and that's why they closed the road some miles out of Reykjavik," she said.

Asked by Swedish public radio if she felt there was any danger, local resident Christina Bengtsson said the biggest problem was volcanic ash.

"The ash can be dangerous for the animals," she said. "When we went out before, we could feel (the ash) in our mouths. From my window, I see a red sky. If I went out the door, I could also see fire."

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sunday, 21 March 2010 07:39 PM
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