Aid Station Opens in Neskaupstaður Following Avalanches

neskaupstaður avalanche

An aid station will be opening today, April 3, for the residents of Neskaupstaður and surrounding settlements that have been affected by the recent avalanches.

Some 850 residents have been forced to evacuate their homes since the first avalanches on the morning of March 27, making it one of the largest evacuations in Icelandic history. It has also been one of the largest ICE-SAR operations in Icelandic history, with some 300 members present at the height of rescue operations. Many residents have since returned, with The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management asking the returning residents to make use of the aid station.

Read more: Evacuations in Three Additional East Fjord Towns

Government ministers also made a trip out to the affected region over the weekend, including Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson.

The ministers met with municipal representatives to survey the progress of the operations and discuss future prevention measures.

Almannavarnir ICE-SAR
ICE-SAR teams at Egilsstaðir Airport – Almannavarnir

Katrín stated to RÚV: “It is a great relief that it was not worse and no one died in these avalanches. That’s the most important thing, but at the same time, the damage is extensive and it is shocking to see the effects of the avalanches. It is extremely important to provide strong support now.”

She stated further: “I understand that the municipal authorities are putting a lot of emphasis on speeding it up as much as possible. What faces us ministers who are here is to review these plans and investigate what can be done to accelerate this project even further.”

Read more: East Iceland Residents Warned of Heavy Rain and Runoff

In addition to the aid stations, Red Cross in Iceland will also be offering psychological services to affected residents.

The coast guard vessel, Þór, is also set to leave the area today. Dispatched on March 27, its crew has had a busy week assisting rescue operations. It was the first time Þór was dispatched in this capacity. In total, Þór left the capital region with a total complement of 40, including a crew of 20 and 20 members of ICE-SAR and the Reykjavík Fire Department.

Earthquakes Near Grímsey: Uncertainty Phase Declared

The National Commissioner of Police and the Chief of Police in Northeast Iceland declared an Uncertainty Phase on Friday due to ongoing seismic activity around the island of Grímsey. RÚV reports that an earthquake measuring 4.9 was detected around the island at 4 AM on Thursday morning; since then, there have been roughly 2,600 earthquakes. At 1:20 PM on Friday, there was another large quake of 4.1 and several over a magnitude of 3.0 occurred after that.

Per the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, an Uncertainty Phase is “is characterized by an event which has already started and could lead to a threat to people, properties, communities or the environment. At this stage the collaboration and coordination between the Civil Protection Authorities and stakeholders begins. Monitoring, assessment, research and evaluation of the situation is increased. The event is defined and a hazard assessment is conducted regularly.”

People who live in known earthquake areas in Northeast Iceland are advised to take appropriate measures to prepare for ongoing seismic activity. These include securing household items, such as flatscreen TVs and breakable décor, taking down paintings or photos that can fall on people while sleeping, moving beds away from windows, and familiarizing oneself with the Duck – Cover – Hold procedure. More information on natural disaster preparedness can be found on the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management’s website, in English, here.

Seismic activity is common in Northeast Iceland, and according to a natural disaster expert at the Met Office, there is currently no indication of a pending volcanic eruption.

Deflection Dams May Be Built to Divert Lava from Roadway

Meradalir eruption, August 2022

The Department of Civil Protection will likely build deflecting dams to prevent lava from flowing onto Rte. 427, RÚV reports. Also called Suðurstrandavegur, this road runs along the south coast of the Reykjanes peninsula between the municipalities of Grindavík and Ölfus.

Lava has yet to start flowing out of the Meradalir valley, but scientists say it’s just a matter of time. At time of writing, the lava around the low-lying mountain pass called Meradalaskarð had reached a height of eight metres [26 ft]. Should it rise a mere metre or so higher, however, it will overflow the valley. On Wednesday, scientists estimated that this could happen over the course of a few hours, but so far, the lava level has been rising slower than anticipated.

See Also: Lava Could Reach Reykjanes Roadway If It Rises Any Higher

“The lava’s been flowing in other directions since we got this tongue, which has actually reached the pass where it can start to flow out of Meradalir,” explained Kristín Jónsdóttir, the Met Office’s team leader for natural disasters. “And, of course, the way the lava flows is random. Tongues are breaking off from the lake of lava and what we saw yesterday was that the lava was mostly flowing in the immediate vicinity of the crater, mostly to the west and the north.”

But currently, it isn’t possible for scientists to say whether the lava will overflow the valley “tomorrow or in a week,” said Kristín.

Plan to divert lava from fibre optic cables, important infrastructure

Diversion dams are only temporary measures, added Björn Oddsson, a geophysicist with Civil Protection. But experiments erecting these barriers in the path of oncoming lava were successful last year and as such, Björn expects that “the engineers and designers who are working on this will make use of [this experience] and will resort to [diversion dams] if the lava starts to flow toward Suðurstrandavegur or fibre optic cable or other things we want to divert it from.”

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Lays Out Long-Term Pandemic Plan

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

A 200-person gathering limit, mask use, and one-metre distancing are among the long-term measures to fight COVID-19 that Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason laid out in a memorandum to the government. It could take months or years to curb the pandemic globally, and until that happens, Iceland would require restrictions both domestically and at its borders to keep infection rates low, Þórólfur stated. The government has discussed the Chief Epidemiologist’s suggestions but has not yet made any decisions on if or how they will be implemented.

Current wave may have peaked

Iceland daily COVID-19 case rate has hovered around 100 cases for the past several weeks. According to RÚV, however, health authorities believe the current wave of infection has reached its peak. Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, communications officer of the Civil Protection Department, says authorities did not consider it necessary to hold an information briefing today, as they often have on Thursdays.

Restrictions necessary as long as pandemic lasts

Þórólfur submitted a memorandum to the Health Minister recently where he laid out his long-term recommendations for keeping the pandemic at bay in the country. In the memorandum, Þórólfur predicted that it would take months or years to curb the COVID-19 pandemic globally. Until that happened, the SARS-CoV-2 virus and possible new variants would continue to be a threat to Iceland, and some form restrictions would be necessary to minimise the risk of widespread infection.

Þórólfur’s long-term recommendations were similar to Iceland’s current domestic COVID-19 restrictions, which are among Iceland’s mildest since the pandemic began. Among the long-term measures he recommended are a 200-person gathering limit, one-metre distancing, and mandatory mask use where distancing cannot be ensured. Bars, restaurants, and nightclubs would not be permitted to accept new guests after 11:00 PM and would be mandated to close at midnight.

Border restrictions are key

The most important aspect of infection prevention restrictions are measures that prevent the virus from crossing the border, Þórólfur wrote to the Health Minister. “In my opinion, solid defences at the borders are the prerequisite for being able to maintain minimal restrictions within Iceland.” While stating it would never be possible to fully prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from crossing the border, Þórólfur suggested minimising the risk by continuing to require travellers to undergo testing prior to departure.

Þórólfur also suggested mandatory COVID-19 testing for all passengers upon arrival to Iceland, something that is currently only required of unvaccinated travellers or those with ties to Iceland. If Iceland’s testing capacity proved unable to handle the number of travellers, the Chief Epidemiologist suggested finding ways to minimise the number of people entering the country to ensure that all could be tested.

Crucial to strengthen healthcare system

In his memorandum, the Chief Epidemiologist also emphasised the importance of strengthening the healthcare system, the National University Hospital’s Virology Department, and the Civil Protection Department for the long term so that Iceland’s infrastructure could cope with the added strain that the pandemic brings. Iceland’s COVID ward and Virology Department (which conducts all COVID-19 testing in Iceland) have been operating at or above capacity for much of this current wave of infection.

Tremor Pulse Wakes Reykjanes Residents, Eruption Not Imminent

Keilir

A tremor pulse was detected on the Reykjanes peninsula at Fagradalsfjall mountain on Sunday morning shortly after midnight. It lasted for about 20 minutes, following on the heels of a period of increased seismic activity at the site. Shortly after the tremor pulse stopped a quake of M3.8 was detected and the seismic activity increased again with robust quakes. Experts say the activity does not indicate an eruption is imminent.

Unrest Wakes Grindavík Residents

The seismic unrest was acutely felt in the municipality of Grindavík, concerning residents. Representatives from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response, the Icelandic Met Office, Reykjanes Police, and the municipality of Grindavík met during the night to discuss the activity. It was their assessment that the earthquakes were due to tension changes in the earth’s crust, not the moving magma, and that therefore the activity was not a signal of an immediate eruption. While no damages have been reported, the earthquakes are making Grindavík residents uncomfortable, particularly larger earthquakes that occur during the night. Yesterday, the town’s mayor met with residents who weren’t raised in Iceland as part of an effort to keep the public informed.

Earthquake Hazard Coordinator with the Icelandic Met Office Kristín Jónsdóttir stated that even if last night’s tremor pulse wasn’t a sign of an imminent eruption, it indicated increased movement in the magma passage under Fagradalsfjall. She stated that the night’s event had been very fast with high activity. Many powerful earthquakes were detected in 20-minute bursts. Usually, however, it’s smaller earthquakes that signal an imminent eruption, not larger ones.

Earthquake Activity Slows

On Saturday night, 1,300 earthquakes were detected on the Reykjanes peninsula, 40 of which were over M3 and five over M4. No tremor pulse has been detected since 12.22am Sunday and last night there were 600 earthquakes in the area, which is slightly less than rates in the past few days. The largest of those earthquakes measured M3.3. Yesterday, March 7, 2,800 earthquakes were detected, the largest one M5.

After reviewing new data and satellite images, it looks like the magma movement is still contained in the area between Fagradalsfjall and Keilir mountains. The seismic unrest over the weekend west and east of that area are due to changes in the earth’s crust tension due to the magma passage that’s forming in the area.