Today marks the 50th anniversary of the infamous 1973 Eldfell eruption.
The eruption took place on Heimaey, the largest and only inhabited island of the Westman Islands. Displacing an entire community, it made international headlines at the time, with coverage from the likes of National Geographic and other major publications.
In total, some 400 homes were destroyed during the eruption, leading to the evacuation of the island’s 5,300 residents. Despite the extensive damage to property throughout Heimaey, the evacuation was considered quick and effective, with nearly all of the island’s residents evacuated and housed by the end of the day, save a few who remained to carry out essential functions and aid in the salvage efforts.
In the days and weeks following the initial eruption, Westman islanders also had to band together to save the harbour. The lava flow from Eldfell threatened to close off the natural harbour, the town’s main source of income and connection to the mainland.
With the help of a pump from a dredging boat and a network of pipes throughout the island, seawater was sprayed across the advancing lave in order to slow its advance. The lava-cooling operation, the largest ever of its kind at the time, was largely successful. Despite the extensive damage to homes throughout the island, the harbour was saved. From the initial eruption in January, lava-cooling operations lasted until July.