About 900 earthquakes struck southern Iceland on Monday (November 13th), authorities said, adding to the tens of thousands that have rocked the region in recent weeks as the country was a hotbed for what could become a major volcanic eruption.
Nearly 4,000 people were evacuated over the weekend as authorities feared molten rock would rise to the surface and potentially hit the coastal town and geothermal power plant.
“Now we have a huge uncertainty; there will be an eruption and if there is, what damage will happen,” said Matthew James Roberts, director of services and research at the Iceland Meteorological Office.
Residents of the town of Grindavik described being forced from their homes in the early hours of Saturday morning as the ground shook, roads cracked and buildings suffered structural damage.
Hans Vera, a 56-year-old Belgian-born man who has lived in Iceland since 1999, said his family’s house was constantly shaking.
“You would never be still, it was always shaking, so there was no way to sleep,” said Vera, who now stays at her sister-in-law’s house in the Reykjavik suburbs.
“It’s not just the people in Grindavik who are shocked by this situation, but also the whole of Iceland,” he said.
Almost all of the city’s 3,800 residents managed to find accommodation with family members or friends, and only between 50 and 70 people remained in evacuation centers, a rescue official said.
Some evacuees were allowed to return to the city briefly on Sunday to pick up things like documents, medicine or pets, but were not allowed to drive themselves.
“You have to park your car five kilometers from the city, and there are 20 cars, huge rescue team cars, 20 policemen, all flashing their lights, it’s just unreal, it’s like a war zone or something, it’s really strange,” said Vera.
The Reykjanes peninsula is a volcanic and seismic hotspot southwest of the capital. In March 2021, fountains of lava erupted spectacularly from a fissure in the ground between 500 and 750 meters long in the Fagradalsfjall volcanic system in the region.
Volcanic activity in the area continued for six months that year, prompting thousands of Icelanders and tourists to visit the site. In August 2022, a three-week eruption occurred in the same area, followed by another in July this year.
When Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010, EU aviation authorities had no choice but to close airspace over much of Europe as a precaution against ash and sand choking aircraft engines.