Investigation into Fatal House Fire Well Underway

fire Vesturgata Bræðraborgarstígur

The investigation into a fire that killed three and left two in critical condition is going well, RÚV reports. A man in his fifties, who was arrested on the day of the incident on suspicion of starting the fire, has been in custody since. The incident is being investigated as voluntary manslaughter.

The fire began on Friday afternoon in a house on the corner of Vesturgata and Bræðraborgarstígur in west Reykjavík. The house was on a list of illegal residential housing published by the fire brigade in 2017. Investigative journalism programme Kveikur took up the matter of illegal residence in the house in 2017. In recent years, neighbourhood residents had spoken out about their concerns with the house’s lack fire protection and poor maintenance.

Most of the house’s residents were of foreign origin. The incident has sparked a conversation about the working conditions faced by foreign workers in Iceland.

Foreign Tourist Saved from Highland River

foreign tourist saved from Kaldaklofskvísl 2020

Search and rescue volunteers saved a foreign tourist with hardly a moment to spare this morning after his jeep got stuck during a river crossing. After the jeep began filling with water, the man climbed onto its roof, where he had been for around two hours when rescue crews arrived.

Crews used a modified jeep to drive into Kaldaklofskvísl river and save the unfortunate traveller, and are now working to pull the jeep out as well. The jeep had been sinking into the river when rescue crews arrived, and it’s likely the rescue happened not a moment too soon.

Heavy rain has swollen rivers in the highlands, making many river crossings more difficult and even impossible for unmodified jeeps. Travellers are encouraged to keep up to date on road and weather conditions and respect road closures.

Limiting Number of Travellers is “Last Resort,” Transport Minister Says

COVID-19 test tubes

Iceland’s Transport Minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson says limiting the number of travellers from abroad is the last resort he would want to take if the number of arrivals begins to exceed the country’s COVID-19 testing capacity, RÚV reports. In a briefing yesterday, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated travellers from abroad were a “particular matter of concern,” as in recent days their numbers had been straining the country’s testing capacity of around 2,000 samples per day.

Since June 15, Iceland has tested most travellers arriving from abroad for COVID-19 through a border screening initiative – the only exception being those arriving from six “safe countries,” and the few who opt for a 14-day quarantine instead. Þórólfur underlined his belief that border screening had proved its worth in local efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the initiative should continue. The National University Hospital’s Virology Department, which processes nearly all COVID-19 samples taken in Iceland, has renovated their facilities and changed their testing methods to increase capacity since this spring. Equipment has been ordered that should triple the current capacity of 2,000 samples per day, but due to global demand, it will not arrive until October.

Instead of limiting the number of arriving travellers, Sigurður Ingi suggested it would be possible to distribute the processing of tests over a longer period, meaning some travellers would wait longer than 24 hours for test results. “Screening and processing samples over a slightly longer period of time is a possibility if there is a big difference [in the number of arrivals] between days,” he stated. He added that it is unlikely that more countries will be exempted from testing in the near future as COVID-19 case numbers abroad continue to rise.

Ring Road Closed in Southeast Iceland Due to Mudslide

The Ring Road (Route 1) is closed in Southeast Iceland due to a mudslide. The closure is between Höfn and Djúpivogur. There is a yellow weather alert in the area.

Wet weather in Southeast Iceland is likely the cause of a mudslide that has closed the Ring Road. Thankfully, conditions are expected to improve this afternoon. Until then, heavy rain and low visibility are expected in the area.

More information on when the road will reopen will be available around 4.00pm today.

Travellers in the region should be aware of the increased risk of landslides due to wet conditions and are encouraged to monitor road conditions online or by calling 1777 (+354 522 1100 from non-local phones).

Iceland “Ready to Provide Support” to Lebanon, Says Foreign Minister

Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson.

Iceland’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister tweeted messages of support to Lebanon yesterday. An accidental explosion in Beirut, the nation’s capital, levelled buildings in the city centre while killing over 100 people and injuring around 4,000. The blast was felt and heard in Cyprus, 100km (62mi) away.

“Devastating news from Beirut, Lebanon. The people of Iceland feel for the families that have lost loved ones and the thousands injured. Our thoughts are with the Lebanese people at this time,” Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir tweeted yesterday.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Guðlaugsson chimed in on the same platform minutes later, stating he was “ [d]eeply saddened by the casualties and destruction caused by the #BeirutExplosions. The footage from #Beirut is truly shocking. #Iceland is ready to provide support to the emergency response. My thoughts are with those suffering.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab has stated the explosion was caused by 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a common industrial chemical used in mining explosives.