REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — A volcano in southwestern Iceland erupted for the second time in less than a month on Sunday, sending lava snaking toward a nearby community and setting at least one home on fire.
The eruption, which began just before 8 a.m. local time, came after authorities evacuated the town of Grindavik following a swarm of small earthquakes, the Icelandic Meteorological Office said. Hours later, a second fissure opened near the edge of town and lava crept toward the homes.
“We just watch it on the 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 about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. The community was previously evacuated in November following a series of earthquakes that opened large cracks in the earth between the town and Sýlingarfell, a small mountain to the north. The nearby Blue Lagoon geothermal spa — one of Iceland’s biggest tourist attractions — also closed temporarily.
In the weeks since then, emergency workers have been building defensive walls around Grindavik, but the barriers weren’t complete and lava is moving toward the community, the meteorological office said.
Before last month’s eruption, the Svartsengi volcanic system north of Grindavik had been dormant for around 780 years. The volcano is just a few kilometers west of Fagradalsfjall, which was dormant for 6,000 years before flaring to life in March 2021.
Unlike the previous event, Saturday’s eruption at Svartsengi produced a “very rapid flow” of lava that moved south toward Grindavik, said Kristín Jónsdóttir of the Met Office.
“Luckily, we got some warnings, so we got increased earthquake activity, and this was all communicated towards the civil protection, so the town of Grindavik was evacuated,” she said.
Iceland, which sits above a volcanic hot spot in the North Atlantic, averages one eruption every four to five years.
The most disruptive in recent times was the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which spewed clouds of ash into the atmosphere and disrupted trans-Atlantic air travel for months.
Sunday’s eruption on the Reykjanes Peninsula isn’t expected to release large amounts of ash into the air. Operations at Keflavík Airport are continuing as normal, said Gudjon Helgason, airport operator Isavia’s press officer.
But Grindavik residents are closely monitoring the slowly unfolding disaster as the streams of smoking lava creep toward their homes.
“I can’t really imagine what people are going through,” said Jeroen Van Nieuwenhove, a nature photographer. “The fact that you can see this on television, the fact that you can see this on webcams, it’s a bit of a weird feeling to see a town being destroyed almost in slow motion at this point.”
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