WATCH: Volcano erupts after earthquake in Iceland, lava flows
A volcano in Iceland erupted after months of tectonic activity and the evacuation of a nearby town.
Reykjavik, Iceland — A volcano in southwestern Iceland erupted for the second time in less than a month on Sunday, sending plumes of lava toward a nearby community and setting at least one house ablaze.
The eruption, which began just before 8 a.m. local time, came after authorities evacuated the town of Grindavik following minor tremors, the Icelandic Meteorological Office said. A few hours later, a second fissure opened on the edge of the town, and the lava seeped toward homes.
“We see it on cameras and there's really nothing else we can do,” Grindavik resident Reynir Berg Jónsson told Iceland's RUV television.
Grindavik is a town of 3,800 people 30 miles southwest of Iceland's capital, Reykjavík. The community was previously evacuated in November following a series of earthquakes that opened large cracks in the earth between the town and the small mountain of Silingerfell to the north. The nearby Blue Lagoon geothermal spa – one of Iceland's biggest tourist attractions – was temporarily closed.
The volcano finally erupted on December 18, and residents were allowed to return to their homes on December 22.
In the weeks since, emergency workers have been building defensive walls around Grindavik, but the barriers are incomplete and the volcano is moving toward the community, the Met Office said.
Before last month's eruption, the Svartsenki volcanic system north of Grindavik had been dormant for about 780 years. Just west of the city of Fakradalsfjal, the volcano, which has been dormant for 6,000 years, will erupt into life in March 2021.
Unlike the previous event, Saturday's eruption at Svartsenki created a “very rapid flow” of lava that moved south towards Grindavik, said Kristin Jansdóttir of the Met Office.
“Fortunately, we got some warnings, so we had an increase in earthquake activity, all of which was reported to civil defense, so the town of Grindavik was evacuated,” he said.
Sitting above a volcanic hot spot in the North Atlantic, Iceland erupts on average once every four to five years.
The most disruptive in recent times was the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010, which spewed ash clouds into the atmosphere and disrupted transatlantic air travel for months.
Sunday's eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula is not expected to send large amounts of ash into the air. Keflavik Airport's operations are continuing as usual, said Gudjon Helgason, press officer for airport operator Isavia.
But Grindavik residents are keeping a close eye on the slowly unfolding disaster as streams of smoking lava creep towards their homes.
“I can't imagine what people are going through,” says Jeroen van Nieuwenhoeve, a nature photographer. “It's a strange feeling to see this on television, to see it on the webcams, to see a city almost slowly being destroyed at this time.”
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