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It was the fourth time since December that the volcano has erupted, spewing smoke and lava into the air. March 2024. Photographer Jakob Vegerfors from Reykjavik was able to take these photos of the eruption. BBC

Icelandic Volcano Erupts, Turning Sky Orange and Forcing Evacuations

Washington Post
March 18, 2024 -

GRINDAVIK, Iceland - A volcano erupted in southwestern Iceland for the fourth time in three months — sending destructive lava flowing toward the town of Grindavik and prompting authorities to close a road near the town and evacuate the popular Blue Lagoon geothermal spa resort amid emergency warnings.

The eruption between the Hagafell and Stora Skogfell mountains on the Reykjanes Peninsula began Saturday night, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office. It quickly formed a 1.8-mile-long fissure in the ground, the office said.

Lava has slowed substantially but was still flowing early Sunday, and footage of the eruption was being live-streamed by RUV, Iceland’s national broadcaster.

There was no information immediately available about the scale of damage or possible casualties.

Photos and videos captured the night sky around Mount Hagafell and Mount Stora Skogfell turning molten orange as people watched and emergency services prepared to respond.

Initial assessments suggested the eruption was the largest of the four recent ones in the area, since swarms of earthquakes caused the Svartsengi volcanic system to awaken for the first time in almost 800 years.

Icelandic police declared a local state of emergency, Reuters reported.

Early Sunday, lava was flowing south and southeast toward the ocean but would take two days to reach the coastline at the current pace, the Meteorological Office said. If the lava reaches the ocean, it could send steam flying and, in some cases, cause explosions of lava fragments that can be dangerous to anyone nearby — but the office said it is unlikely the lava will reach the ocean given the development of the eruption.

The plumes of smoke and orange hues could be seen from the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, according to photos.

Because of the volumes of magma accumulating underground, there was little warning of Saturday’s eruption before it came, the Meteorological Office said.

Once an alert was sounded, authorities moved to evacuate people from the area, according to local media, including the Blue Lagoon, one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.

Grindavik, a town of nearly 4,000 people that was evacuated before the volcano’s first eruption in December, was also cleared of any residents who had returned, the Associated Press reported.

Reuters video showed patrons leaving the Blue Lagoon as sirens sounded to warn about the erupting volcano.

Abby Garcia, who was at the Blue Lagoon resort with friends on Saturday, told Reuters she mistook the “bright red hue in the sky” for a sunset. Garcia said she and her friends were rushed out of the pool and put on an evacuation bus.

Another witness, Melissa Ezair, told Reuters that the evacuation went smoothly and that she “wasn’t scared.”

“Some people drove cars, then others … took the bus to town. No one seemed out of control or crying or anything. Everybody was steady and … they prepared it very well and took good care of us to be sure we all got out okay,” Ezair said.

Photos from the Icelandic Coast Guard showed the view from a surveillance flight over the new fissure.

The closest airport, Keflavik International, remained open Sunday, and flights were not disrupted. RUV said this eruption was not generating ash — unlike the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which shut down air traffic across Europe.

As The Washington Post reported, that explosive eruption vividly demonstrated what happens when hot lava meets freezing cold water. Known as a phreatomagmatic eruption, the molten rock — magma — made contact with ice and meltwater and flashed to steam. But the volcanic system on the Reykjanes Peninsula is far from the glaciers of Iceland.

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