Iceland volcano dramatically erupts again as streams of lava reach town’s defensive walls

Marco di Marco/AP via CNN Newsource

A volcano in southwestern Iceland erupted Wednesday for the fifth time since December, spewing massive lava flows that threatened to cut off the town of Grindavík and prompting the evacuation of the world-famous Blue Lagoon.

The eruption began around 1 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET) Wednesday following an earthquake at the Sundhnúks crater, Iceland’s public broadcaster RUV reported.

Iceland’s Meteorological Office had earlier warned that a volcanic eruption was likely following “intense seismic activity” at the crater and a build-up of magma in its underground reservoir.

Dramatic video and images from the scene showed fountains of red-hot lava shooting into the air along a 3.4-kilometer (two-mile) fissure near Mount Hagafell on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Lava flows initially cut off two out of three roads leading to the fishing town of Grindavík and were steadily moving along a defensive barrier built to save the town and key infrastructure from being destroyed, Iceland’s Meteorological Office said.

But the situation had improved by Thursday, the mayor of Grindavík said. The town remains without electricity, but both hot and cold water are running in the town with no apparent damage to the piping system, RUV reported.

“I like the situation quite well compared to how it looked at the beginning of the eruption yesterday,” Mayor Fannar Jónasson said.

Initial monitoring by the Met Office warned the start of the eruption was “more vigorous” than previous times, but the lava activity had “significantly decreased overnight,” it said.

Just hours before, Víðir Reynisson, from Iceland’s Civil Defense, had told RUV that “lava is flowing outside the defense walls at Grindavík in several places, and lava is also starting to flow outside the walls at Svartsengi.”

He warned that Grindavík was at risk of becoming completely cut off, though he added that the defense barriers were holding.

“The houses in the west and farthest part of the town would have gone under the lava if it weren’t for the defensive walls, but they are still standing and defending,” Reynisson reportedly said.

Grindavík, a town of about 3,000 people, was mostly evacuated before a previous eruption in December. Residents and responders who remain in the town have been urged to leave while they still can, though police told RUV that three residents are refusing to evacuate.

Electricity to Grindavík was cut on Wednesday as a protective measure as lava flows closed in on high-voltage lines and hot and cold pipes in the ground, Kristinn Harðarsonar, production manager at energy company HS Orka, told RUV.

“Most of the high-voltage lines are gone, the pylons are badly damaged and some are on fire,” the Civil Defense’s Reynisson later said.

Benedikt Ófeigsson, from the Met Office, told RUV that the beginning of this eruption was more powerful than previously due to more accumulated magma in the chamber.

“It’s a lot more lava flow than we’ve seen before,” he reportedly said. “This is reflected in today’s massive lava flows.”

Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a post on X that there was no disruption to international or domestic flights.

But for the third time in just over two months, the country’s famous geothermal spa and tourist hotspot the Blue Lagoon was evacuated, according to its operations manager.

Just under an hour’s drive from Iceland’s capital and largest city Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. The site is part of southwest Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula — a thick finger of land pointing west into the North Atlantic Ocean from Reykjavik.

Iceland is one of the most active volcanic areas on the planet. Rather than having a central volcano, the Reykjanes Peninsula is dominated by a rift valley, with lava fields and cones.

The environment agency’s air quality meters are “green” across Iceland, indicating there is currently no air pollution from the eruption, the monitoring website shows. However, Iceland’s national police warned a westerly wind could carry gas pollution from the eruption eastward on Thursday into Friday, which might affect areas in South Iceland.

“According to the Icelandic Met Office, there is considerable uncertainty regarding the amount of gas emissions from the eruption site,” the police said in a statement.

While the gas pollution forecasted in Reykjavík on Wednesday never materialized, police encouraged residents to monitor real-time air pollution levels online.

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