Hell in Iceland: lava burns houses and threatens to swallow a town

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By John

In Iceland a new volcanic eruption threatens the existence of a town. Only a month ago the inhabitants of Grindavik, not even 30 kilometers from Reykjavik, had suffered the trauma of learning that there was boiling magma under their feet: today the lava began to flow out violently again and began to burn the houses, threatening to wipe out the quiet fishing village of 4,000 souls.

The authorities declared a state of emergency and the few inhabitants who returned to Grindavik after the eruption and evacuation in December were ordered to evacuate again in the middle of the night. The Icelandic Prime Minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, declared that “the situation is terrifying”: “It is scary – she added – to see how close the eruption is to Grindavík”.

In the long Nordic winter night, the new volcano illuminated the landscape with a front of incandescent gas, whose luminous column also put on a show in Reykjavik and beyond. A lake of lava began pouring in various directions, only partially kept at bay by recently erected anti-lava walls. “A fissure has opened on both sides of the (anti-lava) embankment that we have started to build north of Grindavik,” the National Meteorological Office (IMO) announced in the morning, adding that the fiery river was heading on the town, on the southern side of the Reykjanes peninsula which hosts the Icelandic capital on the northern side.

In the afternoon, the first homes, modern white houses evacuated by their inhabitants, were hit by molten rock and caught fire, immortalized live in their agony by TV cameras.

“A new situation has arisen and there is nothing we can do about it,” admitted the mayor, Fannar Jonasson. All this happens just three weeks after the end of the previous eruption, which culminated on December 18 with the emission of lava fountains visible from tens of kilometers away, after an endless swarm of hundreds of seismic tremors that tormented the area since early November , cracking walls and buildings and the asphalt of the streets.

A restlessness which, however, never completely stopped, and which also claimed a victim last Wednesday: a 51-year-old man who was doing work in a garden and was swallowed up by a chasm that opened up beneath him. Entirely made up of volcanic rock deposited over millions of years of eruptions that made it emerge from the ocean, located on the Mid-Atlantic tectonic fault, Iceland has 33 volcanic systems, the largest number in Europe.

Some of these have created serious problems, such as Eyjafjallajökull, whose powerful ash emissions, spread over half the northern hemisphere, left thousands of flights grounded between April and May 2010, imposing the most serious crisis in global air transport since World War II. The Reykjanes Peninsula had shown no signs of activity in centuries.

Then, in March 2021, the earth awakened after 8 centuries with several eruptions in the area. Although volcanic vents and small cones arise in various points of the Reykjanes peninsula, often putting on a spectacle and attracting onlookers and tourists and also animating spa centers such as the nearby Blue Lagoon, the danger, until a month ago, never threatened inhabited centres, such as in the rest of the Scandinavian country. Last December the Meteorological Office drew the conclusion that a tunnel, a magma channel, had formed under the town at a depth that was difficult to measure and with the possibility of an outlet that was difficult to predict. A volcano under the feet of the inhabitants and which today struck much closer than a month ago.