Iceland declares a state of emergency in preparation for volcanic eruption

Iceland declared a State of Emergency after earthquakes raised concerns that a volcanic explosion would damage residential areas for the first 50 years.

Iceland evacuated 4,000 residents from Grindavik, a town in the south-west after a 15km underground magma tube was discovered close to the Fagradalsfjall volcanic cone. This increased the likelihood of a possible eruption.

On Sunday, the government called an emergency cabinet session after thousands of earthquakes had been recorded in the region. Reykjanes Peninsula, home to Iceland’s airport and Blue Lagoon tourist attraction that has been closed since last Thursday, has been rocked by the activity.

Several volcanic eruptions have occurred near Grindavik over the past few years. In 1973, the eruption of Eldfell caused several hundred homes to be destroyed on the island of Heimaey. However, there were no deaths.

After ash clouds from the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull spread south, a large part of European airspace was closed for nearly a week. Volcanologists say there is less risk of an ash cloud if the eruption occurs at sea. Grindavik, Iceland’s international main entry point, is just 19km away. However, flights continue to operate as usual.

Grindavik’s roads are racked with huge cracks. Authorities announced on Sunday that residents could return safely to collect essentials, evacuate livestock and pets.

Danielle Rodriguez of Grindavik said on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter) that she felt “the most terrified for my life.”

She added, “The ground began shaking so badly that I grabbed the car. For a good thirty seconds I thought the ground would crack and swallow us both (her girlfriend and herself).” Experts say that an eruption can happen at any moment, and the current seismic activity makes such an event probable but not guaranteed.

The Icelandic Met Office reported on Saturday evening that “the overall assessment of the status meeting indicated that the probability of a volcano eruption is high and that it could occur within a few days.”

The magma intrusion is slowly approaching the surface, and it’s estimated to be about 800 meters below ground. It added that the likelihood of an underwater explosion had increased, “so it is important to prepare for explosive activity”.