Under the volcano: Icelanders allowed back into their homes for just five minutes

There have been hundreds of small warning earthquakes suggesting movement in the earth’s crust.


Residents of a small Icelandic town close to a volcano that is expected to erupt were given just five minutes to return to their homes to collect valuables.

Grindavik was evacuated on Saturday as experts warned recent seismic activity suggested an eruption was imminent.

A number of sheep were also rescued.

“You are so confused when you go in,” said Solveig Thorbergsdottir.

“You only have five minutes, but I stretched it to 15 and I just saved what I saw around. Photos of the grandchildren. Photos of myself when I was young. My best clothes, my wedding dress.”

The residents were accompanied by police officers, there to ensure they didn’t stay too long.

“Nobody has complained until now,” said Olafur Orvar Olafsson, the policeman in charge.

“I would understand if they were not happy, but this is just the situation today.”

Police decided to evacuate Grindavik after monitoring indicated that a corridor of magma, or semi-molten rock, now extends under the community, Iceland’s Meteorological Office said. The town of 3,400 is on the Reykjanes Peninsula, about 50 kilometres southwest of the capital, Reykjavik.

“At this stage, it is not possible to determine exactly whether and where magma might reach the surface,” the Meteorological Office said.

Authorities also raised their aviation alert to orange, indicating an increased risk of a volcanic eruption. Volcanic eruptions pose a serious hazard to aviation because they can spew highly abrasive ash high into the atmosphere, where it can cause jet engines to fail, damage flight control systems and reduce visibility.

A major eruption in Iceland in 2010 caused widespread disruption to air travel between Europe and North America, costing airlines an estimated $3 billion as they cancelled more than 100,000 flights.

The evacuation comes after the region was shaken by hundreds of small earthquakes every day for more than two weeks as scientists monitor a build-up of magma some 5 kilometres underground.

Concern about a possible eruption increased in the early hours of Thursday when a magnitude 4.8 earthquake hit the area, forcing the internationally known Blue Lagoon geothermal resort to close temporarily.

The seismic activity started in an area north of Grindavik where there is a network of 2,000-year-old craters, geology professor Pall Einarrson, told Iceland’s RUV. The magma corridor is about 10 kilometres long and spreading, he said.

“The biggest earthquakes originated there, under this old series of craters, but since then it (the magma corridor) has been getting longer, went under the urban area in Grindavík and is heading even further and towards the sea,” he said.