Parts of Eskifjörður Also To Be Evacuated Due To Risk of Mudslides

map of Eskifjörður evacuation zone

Due to fissures in the mountainsides above Eskifjörður growing wider, some areas in town will be evacuated due to the risk of landslides. The National Police Commissioner has raised the level of alert for the town.

After a week of extreme rainfall, devastating landslides have hit the town of Seyðisfjörður in east Iceland. Eskifjörður is further south and has had less, but still a significant amount of rainfall. Mountainsides are saturated with water and today, fissures in an old road above the town have grown wider. Landslides have fallen in the vicinity of the town but not on any residential areas, so far. In light of the situation, the Iceland Meteorological Office has requested that areas of Eskifjörður directly underneath the widening fissures be evacuated. Residents in the evacuation zone are asked to register at the Red Cross Emergency Response Centre at 2, Dalbraut, or call 1717.

Evacuation in Seyðisfjörður is ongoing and residents will be taken by bus to nearby Egilsstaðir. Most people in town have already left and emergency responders are working on finding them a place to stay for the night, RÚV reports.

Announcement from the office of the National Commissioner of Police and the Chief of Police in East Iceland.

Alert level raised to Danger in response to the threat of landslides in Eskifjörður, East Iceland.

The National Commissioner of Police, in consultation with the Commissioner of Police in East Iceland and the Icelandic Meteorological Office, has raised the alert level in Eskifjörður in response to the risk of landslides.

Fissures in the mountains around Oddskarðsvegur, above Eskifjörður, have enlarged over the course of the day due to significant rainfall. The Meteorological Office recommends that Botnabraut, Hátún, Helgafell, Lambeyrarbraut, Hólsvegur and Strandgata be evacuated. Residents of those streets are asked to register at the Icelandic Red Cross emergency shelter in the church at Dalbraut 2 or call directly the Red Cross Helpline 1717.

Yet Another Mudslide in Seyðisfjörður, Whole Town To Be Evacuated

mud and water after Seyðisfjörður mudslide

The National Police Commissioner has decided to raise the level of distress in Seyðisfjörður from alert to emergency after yet another large mudslide hit several buildings in town around three pm, sweeping at least one building away, in addition to the one destroyed during the night.

A large mudslide hit the town at three pm today. Several houses were damaged and one was completely destroyed. Parts of the town are now without electricity. There are conflicting reports on whether the mudslide fell within or outside the evacuation area, but no injuries have been reported, and the whole town will now be evacuated. Everyone currently in Seyðisfjörður is asked to present themselves at the Herðubreið community centre, acting as a temporary Red Cross Emergency Response Centre, or to call 1717. All search-and-rescue teams in East Iceland have been called and police from the capital area, the National Police Commisioner’s special forces and the northeast Iceland police have also been sent to Seyðisfjörður.

According to RÚV’s reporters, the outer part of town is without electricity and SAR team members will have to go by boat to repair it.

According to forecast, the torrential rain Seyðisfjörður has been experiencing for the past week is expected to let up tomorrow.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Three Thousand Doses of Pfizer Vaccine To Arrive Per Week

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated at Parliament today that the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will arrive in Iceland December 27 and that according to schedules, three to four thousand doses of the Pfizer vaccine will arrive on average each week from the end of December throughout March. In total, around 60,000 doses will arrive in Iceland. While deals with other vaccine production companies will secure enough vaccine for Iceland to reach herd immunity, distribution schedules are not ready.

Delivery schedules uncertain

Chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason had a more pessimistic outlook during an information briefing yesterday. He issued a clarification of his words yesterday afternoon stating that, at the moment, authorities only had dependable information on the delivery of the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine. While his words yesterday could have been understood to mean that vaccines from other producers wouldn’t arrive until the latter part of next year, that would be an overstatement. Iceland has already secured the right to vaccines for around 60-70% of the nation, but as of yet, it is not known when they will be delivered or how much each delivery will contain. Those plans will become clearer with time.

Weekly deliveries of 3-4,000 doses

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir told Vísir that all nations in Europe will receive 10,000 doses of the vaccine around Christmas. After that, a proportional delivery schedule for European countries will commence. According to the schedule, Iceland will receive between 3 and 4 thousand doses per week from December 27 throughout March. “By the end of March, we will have received around 59-60,000 doses, counting the 10,000 we will receive December 27.,” Svandís stated. As each individual requires two doses of the vaccine, we should have received enough vaccine at the end of March to vaccinate 30,000 people.

First doses used to protect at-risk groups

The next steps pertain to the distribution of the first doses. Around 5,000 people, frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents are prioritised. “We will be able to use the first 10,000 doses of the vaccine in a concentrated effort to protect individuals most at risk,” stated Svandís. She pointed out that the first five priority groups include around 12,000 but the sixth, people over 60 years of age, contained around 73,000. These groups sometimes overlap.

A “very good” situation before mid-2021

Asked when she predicted at-risk groups would be fully vaccinated, Svandís replied: “As we’re using these first few doses in this way, we will cover frontline workers and nursing home residents immediately between Christmas and the New Year. The immunity response needs time to develop. But afterwards, we’ll start focusing on the oldest age group, 80+ and work our way towards younger people. We assume that we’ll have covered it in the first half of the year, considering all the uncertainty factors.” She predicts a “very good” situation before mid-2021.

Relaxing restrictions and vaccination go hand in hand

During discussions in Parliament, Svandís stated that it was self-evident that vaccinations went hand in hand with relaxing infection prevention restrictions. There won’t be one magic date when everyone is vaccinated and all restrictions are lifted. Authorities will work to relieve restrictions as vaccination efforts proceed, adding that their first priority was easing restrictions in upper secondary schools.

Deals in place to secure vaccine for Icelanders born before 2005

While the Pfizer vaccine is the only one yet to have a projected delivery date, the European Union has negotiated with six pharmaceutical companies producing vaccines, two of which Pfizer and AstraZeneca, have a signed deal with Iceland to deliver vaccines. She expects they will sign a deal with Moderna before the year is out. While no vaccine is yet to be registered in Europe, the Pfizer vaccine registration is expected to be complete before Christmas. The Moderna vaccine registration is expected soon after the New Year and AstraZeneca in February at the latest.

According to Svandís, Iceland will receive the vaccine in the same proportions as other countries in Europe but Icelanders, like Norwegians, have asked Sweden to handle vaccine deliveries to Iceland. “Our deals with the pharmaceutical companies will secure us enough vaccine to vaccinate Icelanders born before 2005,” Svandís told Mbl. at least 70% of that group will have to be vaccinated before we will have reached herd immunity.

Important that Icelanders don’t hesitate to get vaccinated

Svandís stated that it was important that Icelanders don’t hesitate to get vaccinated, adding that “even if the vaccine’s development was done at historical record speed, no security levels were skipped during its development.”Until now, there are no documented cases of serious side effects of the vaccines. the most common symptoms include slight flu symptoms and soreness at the injection site. Svandís mentions that there’s reason to take extra care with people with serious allergies. The vaccine has not been tested on pregnant women. She says the reason the development went so fast was thanks to the experience of vaccine development, generous funding, and solidarity between nations. She expects that if everything goes according to plan, the majority of the nation will be vaccinated in the first half of next year.

“We’re stepping into a new chapter in our fight against COVID-19. There’s every reason to celebrate and not get knocked down if the news is less optimistic one day to the next.”

Toddler Santas Spark Joy

A news report on toddlers in santa outfits sparked joy on social media

During last nights broadcast evening news, RÚV reported on a childcare worker in Akranes who dresses herself and her wards up in Santa costumes before their walks around town. Icelanders expressed much joy over the report and accompanying video clips on social media.

Magný Guðmunda Þórarinsdóttir is a childcare worker in Akranes in west Iceland. For the past 18 years, she’s dressed the toddlers in her care in Santa outfits during December. She has a costume for herself as well, and during her walks with the children, the group turns heads. According to her, the children love the event as much as Akranes residents love to see them, and they line up to receive their outfits when it’s time for a walk. They go out most days, “to get a little jolt of Christmas”.

After the report aired, several Icelanders took to social media claiming that the adorable clip of Santa toddlers was exactly what they needed during this difficult time. A local poet and rapper stated: “There were a few small children on the news, wandering around aimlessly as they are wont to do, with big red cheeks, wearing Santa outfits, and now I’m pregnant.” He was not the only one, with another local stating that he couldn’t explain it but after watching the news, his ovaries were jingling. One also noted that the only thing cuter than the report itself was beloved news anchor Bogi Ágústsson’s smile after the report ended.

Chief Epidemiologist in Quarantine

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guiðnason is in quarantine after a staff member at the Directorate of Health tested positive for the coronavirus, RÚV reports.

Two other staff members from the epidemiology department of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response are also in quarantine. Þórólfur tested negative for the virus around 6 pm yesterday but he will now enter a 7-day quarantine, to be tested again December 23. Kjartan Hreinn Njálsson, assistant to the Director of Health told reporters that Þórólfur is currently not experiencing any symptoms. Contact tracing is ongoing.

Other staff members with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response will not have to go into quarantine but the situation will be reassessed once contact tracing is complete. Kjartan Hreinn said that in light of the situation, everyone is being especially careful and everything will be done to minimise the risk of further infection.

Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson , another face of the Icelandic pandemic response, tested positive for the virus in early December and had to get medical attention from the National Hospital for his illness. He is now out of isolation but is still recovering from his illness. No one else from the Department of Civil Protection had to go into quarantine in connection with Víðir’s infection.

Seyðisfjörður Mudslide Sweeps House Off Foundation

During the night, two large mudslides fell on Seyðisfjörður in east Iceland, where heavy rains have caused dangerous conditions for the past week. The larger one swept away a house, which shifted 50 metres off its foundation. Evacuation zones were extended yesterday, but the weather forecast expects the rain to let up tomorrow.

House swept away

Yesterday, the evacuation zone was extended and during the night, two large mudslides fell from Nautaklauf cliff. The first one just after 1 am and another about two hours later, both in the same channel as the largest mudslide last Tuesday. The latter swept away an empty timber house known as Breiðablik and shifted it 50 m off its foundation. The house in question stood within the evacuation zone and is destroyed. After the event, the risk was reassessed and a few buildings more were evacuated. While Seyðisfjörður residents have been away from their homes since Tuesday, they’ve been able to enter their homes with an escort to retrieve personal belongings and necessities. Ten people from the newly evacuated buildings spent the night in the Red Cross Emergency Response Centre but most have been able to find shelter with friends and relatives.

Seyðsfjörður house swept off foundation in mudslide
Bjarki Borgþórsson. The house known as Breiðablik was swept 50 m (164 feet) off its foundation before it hit a petrol station

Extreme rains

Seyðisfjörður saw heavy rain yesterday evening and during the night. While it let up this morning, some rainfall is expected this afternoon. Since December 11, cumulative precipitation is around 650 mm, which is extreme. Water flows through the streets and the town’s sewage system is at capacity. The town’s main street is impassable due to water and mud and people are asked not to travel in town, especially in smaller cars. Seyðisfjörður residents are holding off on pumping water from cellars as evacuation orders are still in effect, and due to the rain, the cellars would likely fill up again quickly.

Seyðisfjörður building swept off foundation in mudslide.
Bjarki Borgþórsson. The building is completely destroyed.

Largest known mudslides but still risk of more

The area is known to have occasional mudslides but the ones this week might be the largest to have ever fallen there, according to the Iceland Meteorological Office’s experts. Despite the large mudslides, there is still loose matter in several spots in the water-saturated mountainside, meaning there’s still a risk of mudslides. With less rain this morning, the risk of mudslides is lower, but more rain is expected in the afternoon before it lets up tomorrow.

Following the mudslides last Tuesday, the conditions of homes were inspected. Even before the mudslides during the night, there was some damage and several houses were flooded with water and mud. The locals report a spirit of solidarity and have been hard at work to clear streets when possible.

No unnecessary travel

Due to infection prevention regulation, the police has issued a request that people avoid unnecessary travel to Seyðisfjörður during the emergency. There have been no COVID-19 infections in east Iceland for a few weeks now and the police request that travellers, reporters, experts, and others hold off travel to Seyðisfjörður so as not to introduce any infections to a town already under great duress.