In Iceland, specifically in the small town of Grindavik, residents experienced an emergency situation due to the threat of a nearby volcano eruption. This situation occurred on November 12, 2023, resulting in a massive evacuation the previous Saturday. Local authorities, based on recent seismic activity, had warned that an eruption was imminent. The hundreds of small but significant earthquakes indicated movement in the Earth’s crust.
Grindavik, with a population of 3,400 inhabitants and located on the Reykjanes Peninsula, approximately 50 kilometers southwest of the capital, Reykjavik, was particularly affected. The Icelandic Meteorological Office revealed that a corridor of magma, or semi-molten rock, had spread beneath the community. However, at that time, it was not possible to determine exactly if and where the magma could reach the surface.
With the latent threat, authorities made the decision to evacuate. Residents were allowed to return to their homes for only five minutes to gather valuable belongings. During this short period, people, amidst confusion and haste, tried to save what was most important to them, including family photos and personal items of great sentimental value.
In addition to the residents, a number of sheep were rescued as they were also in danger due to the volcanic situation. The rescue of these animals reflected the severity of the situation and the need to act swiftly.
Accompanied by police officers, residents were forced to act quickly as authorities ensured they did not remain in their homes longer than allowed. This operation was overseen by Olafur Orvar Olafsson, the police officer in charge, who expressed his understanding of the difficult situation but emphasized the need to follow safety measures.
This event led the authorities to raise their aviation alert to orange, indicating an increased risk of volcanic eruption. Volcanic eruptions pose a serious danger to aviation as they can emit highly abrasive ash into the atmosphere, affecting airplane engines, damaging flight control systems, and reducing visibility.
The potential impact of a volcanic eruption in Iceland is considerable, as demonstrated in 2010 when a major eruption caused widespread disruption to air traffic between Europe and North America, costing airlines around $3 billion and the cancellation of over 100,000 flights.
The evacuation occurred after the region experienced hundreds of small earthquakes every day for over two weeks. Scientists were monitoring the accumulation of magma about 5 kilometers underground. Concern for a possible eruption heightened in the early hours of Thursday when a magnitude 4.8 earthquake shook the area, leading to the temporary closure of the well-known Blue Lagoon geothermal complex.