Evacuations In Siglufjörður Due to Risk of Avalanche

Siglufjörður, North Iceland.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response, along with the Iceland Meteorological Office, has raised the level of alert in North Iceland from Uncertain to Dangerous, due to a risk of avalanches. Nine houses in Siglufjörður will be evacuated.

The Met Office has raised the level of alert due to the risk of avalanches in North Iceland. Residential areas in the southernmost part of Siglufjörður will be evacuated and the police will be in touch with the people who need to leave their homes. This morning it was found that an avalanche had fallen on the Skarðsdalur Ski area and caused considerable damage. Luckily, no one was in the area at the time of the avalanche.

The houses that are being evacuated lie below the avalanche protection structure known as Stóri-Boli (Big bull). Built in 1998-1999, it has been hit by several avalanches in its time and stood its ground. The evacuation is a safety precaution, as a large avalanche hitting under the worst possible circumstances could possibly break the avalanche barrier. This was what happened in Flateyri last January when a large avalanche partially breached the avalanche barrier.

The Department of Civil Protection’s operations control has been activated in Akureyri and they are in constant communication with all appropriate parties to ensure communication. The Department of Civil Protection has sent a request to the Icelandic Coast Guard that a coast guard ship is in the area to assist if needed. They’ve responded positively and coast guard ship Týr is heading north.

The situation in Tröllaskagi will continue to be monitored and if needed, authorities will put the appropriate measures into effect. Residents in the area are asked to monitor the weather forecast closely; a considerable amount of precipitation is expected until the weekend. A yellow weather alert has been issued for the area, in effect until tomorrow noon.

Since yesterday morning, there’s been a stiff wind from the north with a considerable amount of snow. Yesterday, an avalanche fell on the road to Ólafsfjörður, effectively closing it to traffic, and today, large avalanches fell in Ósbrekkufjall mountain, one reaching all the way down to the sea. The Met Office expects northern and north-easterly winds and snow until the weekend. All roads to and from the Fjallabyggð municipality, containing the towns of Siglufjörður and Ólafsfjörður, are impassable due to the snow. Earlier this afternoon, a snowplough cleared a temporary path for a convoy of people who urgently needed to travel to or from the area.

The North-east Iceland Police Commissioner and the Department of Civil Protection and emergency response will continue to monitor the situation in cooperation with the Iceland Meteorological office.

Avalanche Causes Damage at Siglufjörður Skiing Grounds

Ski Siglufjörður Skarðsdalur

An avalanche has damaged installations on the skiing grounds in Siglufjörður, North Iceland, RÚV reports. No one was on the grounds when the avalanche occurred early this morning, though staff noticed it when they arrived in the area, located in Skarðsdalur valley. Egill Rögnvaldsson, regional manager of the ski grounds, says the extent of the damage is not known.

The ski lodge was displaced from its foundation by the avalanche. The snow also fell on storage containers with rental equipment and moved a snow plough. Employees left the area immediately once they saw what had occurred. According to the Icelandic Met Office, there is an ongoing risk of avalanches in the area and a state of uncertainty remains in effect in North Iceland.

Two avalanches have fallen on roads in the area and some remain closed due to clean-up or ongoing avalanche risk.

Sheep Farmers Protest Private Company’s Land Acquisition

Núpsdalstunga farm in Northwest Iceland

Sheep farmers in Vestur-Húnavatnssýsla have challenged the Minister of Agriculture to reject private company Flaumur’s acquisition of the Núpsdalstunga estate in Miðfjörður fjord in Northwest Iceland. The Húnaþing Municipal Council has stated that estates should remain residential.

The Ministry of Industry and Innovation requested the Municipal Council’s review of the Flaumur acquisition. According to the ministry, the company owns close to 6,000 hectares of land before the acquisition and according to law, a municipal council’s opinion should be sought if a buyer’s property crosses a certain amount of estates and hectares.

The Húnaþing Vestra Municipal council does not consider it desirable that many estates gather in the hands of few and reiterates its will that estates be sold to prospective residents. The municipal council’s full statement was recorded in their meeting minutes: “it’s important to ensure proper usage of farmland, as such usage across the municipality is the heart of the community. The municipal Council wants to emphasise that owning land does not only come with the right to use its benefits but also responsibilities to the land and the whole community. It is the municipal council’s express request that all land in the municipality is used with the goal of supporting diverse industry, strengthening regional development and rural residency. That makes it important to ensure that as many estates as possible have active residents,” the statement reads. The council also criticised the ministry’s handling of the review request, stating that the council had little time to react to the request and that none of the necessary information had accompanied the request.

The Sheepfarmers Association of Vestur-Húnavatnssýsla posted a statement on social media challenging the minister to reject the acquisition. “Of course we, like all other rural residents, want widespread farm residency, because a certain amount of people is needed to keep up a community, Association Director Ólafur Benediktsson told RÚV. “People have been calling out for the past years regarding these estate collections. That people and companies aren’t collecting estates across the country.” According to the Association’s Facebook post, a young family had made a “realistic”, fully funded offer, intending to live on the estate and farm the land, while it was unlikely that Flaumur, already owning several thousand hectares of land across Iceland were purchasing the estate for full-time residency. The Association also stated that Flaumur’s purchase should be rejected to set a precedent that land purchasers should adhere to laws requiring large-scale land buyers to provide clarification on how they intend to use the land.

The owners of the Núpsdalstunga estate don’t live on the farm anymore and the land is currently not being traditionally farmed. Ólafur claims it is important the land is bought by people who want to live there. The people of Vestur-Húnavatnssýsla have been burned before by outside companies acquiring land in the area. “In our experience, we’re afraid that nobody is going to live there. We’re worried about that, yes. And you have to wonder, in this context, what has one person to do with five or ten thousand hectares of land, spread across Iceland. I don’t understand that.”

Laws on land purchase in Iceland are laxer than in many other countries, something that has been discussed in parliament more than once, and something the government has been intending to amend for years. Notably, British tycoon Jim Ratcliffe has purchased large swathes of land in Iceland, thereby acquiring the rights to some of the country’s most popular salmon fishing rivers and water sources. The Núpsdalstunga estate also comes with fishing rights.

Child Dies Following Westfjords Car Accident

fatal accident Iceland

A one-year-old boy and his mother have both died following a car accident in the Westfjords, RÚV reports. The father of the family, who was also in the car, remains in hospital in Reykjavík. The tragic incident has left the family’s Westfjords community in a state of shock, and has led Icelandic authorities to revise quarantine guidelines for those returning from abroad.

The family of three was returning to Flateyri last Saturday morning after a trip to Poland, when their car veered off the icy road in Skötufjörður fjord and ended up in the ocean. The three were pulled from the vehicle by passers-by, who had to drive further down the road to call emergency services as there was no reception at the location of the accident. Weather slowed the arrival of emergency response crews, who eventually transported the family to the National University Hospital by helicopter. The woman, Kamila Majeska, died in hospital on Saturday evening. Her son Mikołaj Majewski, who was less than two years old, died in hospital yesterday. Tomasz, the father, remains in hospital. His condition has not been made public.

Community in Shock

Janina Magdalena Kryszewska lives in Ísafjörður, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Flateyri, and has known the family for several years. She says the accident is a shock to the community. “This family was wonderful. I remember when Tomasz and Kamila met, how happy he was and [how happy they were] together. Janina’s husband is a Search and Rescue volunteer and joined response crews at the scene of the accident. The community has begun collecting donations for Tomasz and his relatives in Poland. The money collected will go toward funeral expenses and travel expenses for relatives.

Quarantine Guidelines Revised

All travellers entering Iceland are required to undergo COVID-19 testing and quarantine for at least five days upon arrival. Until now, travellers have been instructed to proceed directly to their quarantine location, regardless of its distance from their point of arrival. In light of the car accident, the Civil Protection Department has decided to revise these instructions and encourage people quarantining far from their point of arrival to rest before setting off on a long drive. Many hotels in the capital area welcome travellers in quarantine.

It is not known whether exhaustion played a part in the accident, though an investigation into its cause is ongoing. Icy road conditions are believed to have been a factor.

COVID-19 in Iceland: All Foreign Residents to Have Access to Vaccine

All individuals residing in Iceland will have access to COVID-19 vaccination, regardless of their residency status or whether their legal residence is in Iceland, according to the Directorate of Health. Foreign citizens will be arranged in priority groups alongside Icelandic citizens based on age and other risk factors.

“Everyone living in Iceland will have the option to get vaccinated, whether they have an Icelandic ID number (kennitala) or a legal residence in Iceland or not,” Anna María Snorradóttir, a Project Manager at the Directorate of Health told Iceland Review.

Vaccination against COVID-19 began on December 29. Vaccination is organised according to priority groups defined by the Chief Epidemiologist, beginning with frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents. Those over 70 years of age are next in line, and Anna María says residents without a kennitala or legal residence who belong to this group will also be offered vaccination.

Important to Register Address and Underlying Risk Factors

Those living in Iceland without a kennitala or whose legal residence is registered abroad will still have access to COVID-19 vaccination in Iceland. Other databases will be used to identify individuals belonging to these groups. “It should be possible to find everyone who has a registered address and order them according to age. In some cases, municipalities have information about these groups,” Anna María stated.

Foreign citizens with underlying health risk factors must ensure those factors are registered within the Icelandic healthcare system. “If no information about risk factors is registered here in Iceland then we will not be able to put them in a priority group due to underlying risk factors. It will no doubt be difficult to find some individuals but we will do everything we can to find those who have the right to vaccination.”

COVID-19 vaccination is free of charge and optional in Iceland. Icelandic authorities have stated that those under 70 will have to wait until at least April for access to COVID-19 vaccines unless they belong to other priority groups.

Due to the dearth of vaccine, priority groups are vaccinated before the general public. At this point, individuals do not book a vaccination appointment, rather receive a notification once they qualify for vaccination due to their age, underlying condition or profession. Individuals will be notified via SMS or through the Heilsuvera online healthcare platform. Information on which priority groups are currently being vaccinated will be available at covid.is. Open vaccination appointments will be available for people who belong to the priority groups being vaccinated at each time. The information at covid.is is available in several languages and more information will be added over the course of the vaccination period.