Lava Breach Prompts New Barrier Construction Near Svartsengi

Fire trucks spew water at flowing lava

Responders are constructing a new barrier and applying cooling measures to control three lava streams flowing over an existing barrier near the Svartsengi Power Plant on the Reykjanes peninsula. The lava is moving slowly, posing no immediate danger, and efforts continue to prevent it from reaching critical infrastructure.

Working through the night

Work has begun on the construction of a new protective barrier (marked in yellow on the map below) within another barrier north of the Svartsengi Power Plant (marked in pink) that was breached by lava last night, RÚV reports.

Three lava streams began flowing over the barrier, prompting the resumption of lava cooling measures that firefighters had experimented with earlier this week; heavy machinery was used to limit the spread of the lava.

A map of older and new protective barriers
Screenshot of a lava barrier map provided by RÚV

As noted by RÚV, numerous workers, firefighters, police, and other emergency responders have been taking shifts throughout the night, attemping to control the lava by covering it with soil and slowing its flow with cooling measures.

By 2 AM, one lava stream had been stanched, but thick, glowing lava was still flowing in three streams down the barriers. The flow of the smallest lava stream, however, appeared to have slowed following the cooling measures applied overnight.

A novel situation

As noted by RÚV, the land behind the barrier slopes towards the Svartsengi power plant, and the lava flow is only about a kilometre away from structures in Svartsengi. The lava is moving very slowly, however, so there is no immediate danger.

RÚV quotes Elísabet Pálmadóttir, a natural disaster specialist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, as saying that there have been no significant changes in the lava flow since last night.

Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, a spokesperson for the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, told RÚV earlier this morning that responders were continuing to cool the lava and working to control the flow. The lava had been accumulating over the past few days, and responders were, therefore, prepared, though the situation remains novel.

Demolition Plans Underway for Ruined Grindavík Buildings

Grindavik

Following months of seismic and geological unrest, many buildings in Grindavík are unusable and slated for demolition, including the Hópið sports hall. Preparations for demolition have begun, with work expected to start this summer.

At least 64 total losses

As a result of the geological unrest near Sundhnúkagígar that began in November of last year, numerous buildings in Grindavík are completely unusable. At least 64 total losses have been reported to the Natural Catastrophe Insurance of Iceland (Náttúruhamfaratrygging Íslands).

Most of the ruined buildings will need to be demolished, including the Víðihlíð retirement and nursing home; potentially the recent extension to Hópskóli, which houses grades 1 to 4; and the Hópið sports hall, which was among the buildings most severely affected by seismic activity last November; on February 6, a massive crack was discovered beneath the artificial turf of the sports hall, when it had been evident for some time that the building was extensively damaged.

Hópið likely first to go

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Atli Geir Júlíusson, head of the planning and environment division of Grindavík, stated that preparations for demolishing the sports hall have started.

“This is perhaps the first project of this nature that we are undertaking, but more are expected,” Atli observed. “Additionally, there are buildings owned both by companies and individuals that are total losses. Þórkatla [a public property company created to carry out the purchase, administration, and disposal of residential housing within the urban area in Grindavík] may take over and purchase these buildings to handle the demolition. There are various aspects to this, and it is just the beginning.”

Atli is hopeful that demolition can begin as soon as possible this summer. “For buildings like Hópið, which are badly damaged and whose cladding may come off in bad weather this fall and winter, we aim to have them removed by autumn,” Atli stated.

Icelandic Universities Report Application Increases

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

University applications in Iceland increased significantly this year, with notable growth in health, education, and science fields. The University of Akureyri, Iceland University of the Arts, Bifröst University, Reykjavik University, and the University of Iceland all reported record or substantial increases in applications.

STEAM fields popular

Applications increased at most universities in Iceland this year, according to the government’s website. Notable growth occurred in the fields of health, education, and science, according to application data from the universities, whose enrollment deadline for the upcoming fall semester ended earlier this month.

“We are very pleased to see this increase in university applications, especially in the STEAM fields (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). The increase indicates that our ministry’s initiatives are working, and more people are recognising the opportunities a university education provides,” Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, Minister of Higher Education, Industry, and Innovation, is quoted as saying.

Read More: What are the top university programmes in Iceland

Record number of applications

The University of Akureyri saw a 7% rise in applications from last year, with nearly a 20% increase since 2022. Applications to its nursing programme rose by 11%, and its teacher education programme saw a 22% increase. The biotechnology programme, unique to the University of Akureyri, also received a record number of applications, according to the government’s website.

Record numbers of applications were also reported by the Iceland University of the Arts and Bifröst University. Both institutions saw significant increases in applications after accepting an offer from the Minister of Higher Education for full state funding in exchange for the abolition of tuition fees. Bifröst University received nearly 1,500 applications, a threefold increase from the previous year.

The Iceland University of the Arts experienced the largest growth in its art education department, with applications nearly tripling, alongside significant increases in its design and visual arts departments.

Reykjavik University also received a record number of applications, with an almost equal gender distribution, though slightly more men applied (53%). Applications to the engineering department increased by 16% and to the industrial and technical sciences department by 10%.

The University of Iceland saw a 10% increase in applications from last year, with even higher growth in its engineering and natural sciences programmes. Applications to various engineering disciplines increased by nearly 34% in electrical and computer engineering and by almost 43% in environmental and civil engineering.

There was also strong interest in programmes related to primary school teaching, pedagogy, and health sciences at the University of Iceland. For instance, 270 individuals registered for the entrance exam for medical school, with 75 students being admitted, 15 more than in previous years.

Reykjavik Taxi Crackdown: 48 Drivers Face Charges

Taxi in Iceland's capital, Reykjavík

The Reykjavík Metropolitan Police inspected 105 taxis in downtown Reykjavik last weekend, resulting in charges against 48 drivers and re-inspection summons for 32. The Chairperson of a local taxi drivers’ association has argued the number of charges is not high given the total number of licences, although emphasising the need for continued and expanded oversight.

Forty-eight drivers face charges

In extensive operations conducted last weekend, the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police inspected 105 taxis operating in downtown Reykjavik. Forty-eight taxi drivers now face charges. Of these, 32 have also been summoned to present their vehicles for re-inspection.

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Chief Inspector Unnar Már Ástþórsson stated that the operation was carried out with the assistance of police forces from West and South Iceland. Additionally, representatives from the Iceland Revenue and Customs Authority and the Icelandic Transport Authority were involved. A total of 16 personnel participated in the operation.

“The reason for this inspection was that we had received reports from taxi drivers’ associations, the drivers themselves, and the public that there were deficiencies among taxi drivers and vehicles,” Unnar stated.

Read More: Does Uber exist in Iceland?

As noted by RÚV, most of the violations were related to equipment deficiencies, although there were also issues with operating licences and driving permits: “For instance, a substitute driver is not allowed to drive a taxi without a driving permit, and we encountered this issue,” Unnar stated. “We also found that some vehicles were not registered for taxi service. There were various other issues that we encountered during this inspection as well.”

Oversight is crucial

In an interview with Mbl.is yesterday, Daníel O. Ein­ars­son, Chairperson of the Federation of Icelandic Taxi Drivers, maintained that the number of charges faced by dozens of taxi drivers following last weekend’s operations were not high. Daníel observed that there were over 900 taxi licences in Iceland in total and only 105 had been inspected.

“This is a very small number,” Daníel told Mbl.is. “They said they only inspected 105 vehicles.”

“But that’s 48 out of 105, right?” reporter Ellen Geirsdóttir Håkansson retorted.

“Yes, but I can tell you that in Norway a month ago, Oslo police inspected 368 cars and only 38 had everything in order,” Daníel maintained. “Of 368 cars, only 38 were compliant, while 275 received one or more warnings for corrections, 50 were banned from operation, and 5 were impounded.”

Daníel went on to explain that deregulation had led to an influx of new drivers unfamiliar with the rules in Iceland. He also stated that he welcomed the recent police inspection but highlighted the need for more consistent and widespread supervision, especially in rural areas, to ensure public safety. Daníel called for ongoing inspections, monitoring of unmarked vehicles, and suggested the use of coloured licence plates to mark inspected taxis so as to enhance passenger safety, reiterating that oversight is crucial for maintaining safety standards.

Kringlan Reopening Postponed to Thursday

Shopping malls Iceland

Following the fire at Kringlan shopping mall, cleanup operations are underway. The reopening of the shopping centre has however been pushed back. It will now most likely reopen on Thursday.

Cleanup going well

RÚV reports that cleanup efforts are going well so far and that the damage was mostly confined to about 10 shops, on both the first and second floors of the structure.

The areas which were damaged worst in the fire, which started this past Saturday, have been blocked off and sealed, though there are reports of extensive water and smoke damage throughout Kringlan as well.

Galleri Sautján, a popular clothing retailer, seems to have had the worst of it, as it is located under the area where the roof partially collapsed. The shop was sealed off during cleanup.

Reopening delayed to Thursday

A partial reopening of the stores which were unaffected by the fire had originally been planned for today. The reopening has, however, been pushed back to no earlier than Thursday, June 20.

While the shopping centre remains closed, shoppers are encouraged to shop online instead. The website for the shopping centre is offering free shipping on orders today and tomorrow, while work continues.

Read more about the history of Kringlan and urban planning in Iceland.

 

VIDEO: Icelanders Who Were There for the First Independence Day

Today, on June 17 2024, Iceland celebrates its 80th anniversary as an independent republic. On this day in 1944, Icelanders celebrated their total independence after some 682 years of foreign rule; from Norway in 1262 and later from Denmark, from 1380 up until that fateful day.

Many of the Icelanders who were alive for this momentous occasion are still with us today, and so we visited Hrafnista nursing home in Reykjavík to speak with some of these folks about what this day was like, and what June 17th means to them.

Parliament Approves Justice Minister’s Immigration Bill

Guðrún hafsteinsdóttir

Parliament has approved Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir’s immigration bill. Members of the government coalition, the Centre Party, and the People’s Party supported the bill, while the Social Democratic Alliance and Reform Party abstained. The Pirate Party opposed the bill.

Forty-two votes in favour

The immigration bill proposed by Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir has been approved by the Icelandic Parliament, Vísir reports.

All members of the government coalition voted in favour of the bill, along with members of the Centre Party and the People’s Party. Members of the Social Democratic Alliance and the Reform Party abstained, while Pirate Party members voted against the bill.

A total of 42 members of parliament voted in favour of the bill.

Four major amendments 

As noted by RÚV, the bill includes four major changes to current laws. Stricter conditions for family reunification will be implemented, the residence permit duration will be shortened, changes will be made to the Immigration Appeals Board, and the processing of appeals will be expedited.

“The objectives of the bill are clear in this important area. As previously stated, they aim to align our legislation with that of the Nordic countries and also to remove uniquely Icelandic procedural rules from our legislation,” Justice Minister Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir stated before the vote. “I also welcome the comprehensive vision and policy in this area that the government agreed upon earlier this winter, and this bill is an important part of that policy,” Guðrún added.

Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir Gunnarsdóttir, a member of the Pirate Party, stated that the provisions in the bill regarding family reunification were directly aimed against Palestinian asylum seekers: “We oppose this bill. There is nothing good in this matter. The changes being made do not increase efficiency. They increase costs and add pressure on the Directorate of Immigration by shortening the validity of residence permits. This is completely pointless,” Arndís Anna has stated.

As reported in May, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has voiced significant concerns about the bill, highlighting, among other things, issues with asylum caps and family reunification delays.

Firefighters Rescue Girl from Art’s Enthralling Embrace

Stuðlar art installation entrhalls a young woman

Rarely has a sculpture been accused of entrapment.

But such was the implication yesterday when the installation Stuðlar – near the Háskólabíó conference and cultural centre in West Reykjavík – made like a Venus flytrap and ensnared an unsuspecting victim.

A young woman.

The girl, undoubtedly taken aback by the enthralling power of art, eventually required the assistance of the fire department.

“Sometimes we are confronted with unusual tasks,” the Reykjavík Metropolitan Fire Department understatedly observed in a post concerning the incident on Facebook: “Like when people find themselves in the most unlikely of troubles.”

According to the statement, it is unclear how the girl became trapped. What matters is that a fire-engine crew from Skógarhlíð liberated her from her “prison” before long.

“Fortunately, she was unharmed and is, undoubtedly, relieved to be free,” the Fire Department noted.

But that freedom has come at the cost of some good-natured ribbing.

“Who stole her shoes?” a commenter on Facebook rather flippantly enquired.

Police Use Pepper Spray on Protesters Outside Parliament

palestine protests alþingi

Police used pepper spray on protesters outside Alþingi last night, June 12. A Pirate Party MP reports that the protest had been peaceful and that the pepper spray was deployed when the vehicle of a government minister needed to leave Alþingi.

Last chance to protest

Pro-Palestinian activists organized a demonstration in front of Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, last night. As Alþingi will soon go into its summer recess, it was the last chance for demonstrators to be heard for this session of parliament.

Pro-Palestinian activists were also joined by anti-whaling activists protesting Minister of  Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir’s recent decision to grant Hvalur hf. a one-year whaling permit.

Several Pirate Party MPs present

RÚV reports that several MPs from the Pirate Party were also present for the peaceful demonstration, including Andrés Ingi Jónsson. He stated to RÚV that the demonstrators could be heard throughout the entire parliamentary session.

“When we arrived, people had gathered near Dómkirkja church and then positioned themselves in front of the entrance to the parking garage, where they were just beating drums and shouting slogans,” he stated to RÚV.  “Shortly after that, the police started to try to disperse the group, and, in my opinion, resorted to pepper spray rather quickly instead of trying to calm the situation.”

Minister’s car tried to leave

Another Pirate Party MP, Gísli Rafn Ólafsson, was present when the pepper spray was used on the protesters. He stated to RÚV that the demonstration had been peaceful and that the escalation in the use of force by police officers seems to have coincided with a minister’s (reportedly Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson) vehicle attempting to leave Alþingi.

Andrés Ingi stated to RÚV that he did not see specifically whose vehicle was leaving Alþingi, but that he found it “quite severe to resort to pepper spray just to let some cars pass.”

Many children and elderly people were also reportedly at the scene.

 

 

 

 

 

Suspect Detained Following Súðavík Stabbing

missing woman

A man was arrested in Súðavík yesterday for allegedly stabbing another man, who is now out of critical condition after receiving treatment. The Westfjords Police are seeking to remand the suspect in custody as their investigation continues.

Victim’s condition stable

The Westfjords Police were notified about an altercation involving a knife at a private residence in Súðavík just before midnight yesterday. Police and paramedics immediately responded to the call, arresting a young man at the scene who was suspected of stabbing another man.

According to a statement on the Westfjords Police’s Facebook page, the victim, who was initially in critical condition, was transported to the Westfjords Health Institute in Ísafjörður and then flown to the National University Hospital in Reykjavík for treatment. Police report that his condition is stable.

The Chief of Police in the Westfjords intends to request that the suspect be remanded in custody by the Westfjords District Court today, in the interest of the investigation. The investigation is in its early stages; no further information is available.

This article was updated at 1.37 PM.