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.

Evacuations in Three Additional East Fjords Towns

East Iceland March 2023

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has issued evacuation orders for parts of Eskifjörður, Stöðvarfjörður, and Fáskrúðsfjörður, three towns in the East Fjords region, due to the risk of slush floods. Evacuation orders remain in effect for nearby Neskaupstaður and Seyðisfjörður. Several avalanches have fallen in Neskaupstaður this week, and heavy precipitation is falling in the region today, increasing the risk of extreme thawing and heavy runoff.

Most roads in the East Fjords region are closed due to avalanche risk and weather conditions. RÚV reports that water is flooding over the road through Berufjörður fjord, in the southern part of East Iceland. Roads in the region are expected to remain closed for the time being.

The Civil Protection Department met at 11:00 AM this morning when it decided to issue the additional evacuation orders. Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson stated that the evacuations were precautionary and “not extensive.” They were issued based on known waterways that could swell suddenly due to extreme thaw and runoff as is expected tonight.

Residents of East Iceland are asked to monitor notifications from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management as well as East Iceland Police, the Icelandic Met Office, and road.is.

East Iceland Residents Warned of Heavy Rain and Runoff

East Iceland March 2023

Residents of East Iceland are encouraged to clear their rain gutters in preparation for heavy rain and rising temperatures today. An orange weather alert is in effect for the East Fjords region today, where hundreds of residents remain evacuated from their homes due to avalanche risk. Several avalanches have hit the East Fjords town of Neskaupsstaður this week, causing property damage but no serious injuries.

The Icelandic Met Office warned that rising temperatures may lead to extreme thawing and increased runoff in East Iceland, as well as rising water levels in rivers and streams. Heavy snow and blowing snow are expected in the region as well, particularly in the northern part. The orange weather alert is in effect until 9:00 AM tomorrow morning, with a yellow weather alert on its heels lasting throughout Friday.

Most East Fjords roads closed

East Iceland Police wrote this morning that they were considering opening the road between Neskaupstaður and Eskifjörður through Fannardalur as well as the road connecting Egilsstaðir and Reyðarfjörður through Fagradalur. Both of these roads are currently closed due to risk of avalanches, as are most roads between Egilsstaðir and Höfn.

Residents are asked to monitor notifications from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management as well as East Iceland Police, the Icelandic Met Office, and road.is.

Risk of Further Avalanches in East Fjords

avalanche neskaupstaður

Evacuation orders for areas of Neskaupstaður, Seyðisfjörður, and Eskiförður, all located in Iceland’s East Fjords, will remain in effect until tomorrow due to the ongoing risk of avalanches. Three avalanches fell in Neskaupstaður during the night and early morning of March 26-27. No serious injuries have been sustained.

Some 500 residents of the three towns have been evacuated from their homes due to the ongoing risk, although the Civil Protection and Emergency Management Department announced this morning that some Neskaupstaður residents could return home today. The emergency phase declared by the Civil Protection Department yesterday has been lowered to an alert phase.

Stormy weather may impact the lifting of evacuation orders. A yellow weather warning has been issued for Southeast Iceland on Wednesday morning that may increase the risk of avalanche in the East Fjords.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told RÚV she planned to visit the affected area at the first opportunity. Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson and Minister of Infrastructure Sigurður Ingi Jóhannesson both stated the avalanches in Neskaupstaður gave reason to review avalanche barrier infrastructure in the East Fjords.

Read more about avalanche barriers in Iceland.

Three Avalanches in Neskaupstaður

avalanche neskaupstaður

Three avalanches struck Neskaupstaður, a town in the Eastfjords, in the night and early morning of March 26-27. Morgunblaðið reports.

One of these avalanches is reported to have hit an apartment building, breaking windows and burying cars.

avalanche neskaupstaður
Slysavarnafélagið Landsbjörg

A state of emergency has been declared in the area by The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management. Communications Director for Civil Protection, Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir stated: “The National Police Commissioner, in consultation with the police chief in East Iceland, has declared a public safety emergency due to the avalanches that fell in Neskaupsstaður this morning, Monday, March 27. It has been decided to evacuate other areas where there is a risk of avalanches, both in Neskaupstaður and in Seyðisfjörður. Mass relief centres have been opened in both places […] Rescuers are working on site. ICE-SAR teams have been called out, and the Road Administration is working with us to clear the way for rescuers. An emergency has been declared in Neskaupstaður, and residents are advised to stay at home and on the side of the house facing the hillside.”

Visibility conditions in the area are reported to be poor, and clearing the way for rescuers may take into the evening.

The state of emergency is expected to be in effect for the rest of the day while rescue operations are underway. The coast guard ship Þór has also been dispatched to the area to aid in rescue operations.

Initial reports indicate some damage to property, but no injuries or deaths.

500 Travellers Trapped in Seyðisfjörður for Two Days

Seyðisfjörður

Some 500 passengers are stuck in Seyðisfjörður for the second day in a row. RÚV reports.

Seyðisfjörður is a small fishing village in Iceland’s East Fjords, notable as a tourist destination for both its vibrant art and cultural life and also its ferry connection. Nestled at the bottom of a steep fjord, Seyðisfjörður is only accessible over land via Fjarðarheiði, a mountain pass.

Conditions in the last days have left Fjarðarheiði impassable, meaning that the travellers are stuck in place for some time.

500 passengers

The travellers arrived in Seyðisfjörður yesterday, March 21. Among the passengers of the ferry are some Faroese and a group of around 50 German travellers. Most travellers are expected to take the ferry back in the morning, a sure disappointment.

Agnar Sverrisson, regional manager of Smyril Line in Seyðisfjörður, stated to RÚV:  “Up on the heath, you have to drive about 10 km [6 mi] at an altitude of over 600 meters [1970 ft]. Many travellers are reluctant to make the journey in difficult conditions. It stops us from doing business for much of the winter.”

Other operations in Seyðisfjörður are being called on to help out as well, although reports indicate that the herring processing facility, which houses an important electric generator, has begun to run low on fuel. According to RÚV, generator fuel should last through the night, but if it comes to it, they may have to burn ship diesel in the generator to keep the lights on.

A fuel truck will be sent over the mountain pass as soon as conditions allow.

Making the most of it

Despite the disappointing nature of the trip, the travellers seem to be making the most of it.

Marie Kruger, a tourist guide, stated to RÚV: “There are people there who have been to Iceland before, and these people may think it’s a bit of an adventure and a bit exciting to experience something like this. But then, of course, there are the others who were really looking forward to seeing the East, and they are naturally disappointed. But people understand the situation and see what is going on.”

The unfortunate closure has also thrown new light on a possible tunnel to Seyðisfjörður, which has been discussed before.

According to Agnar, “It’s a matter of life and death for Seyðisfjörður to get a tunnel. And then for the community in East Iceland as a whole to continue to be open. To connect Austurland together so that this can be considered a single business and tourism area.”

 

 

Winter Heat Wave on Anniversary of Coldest Day Ever

On Friday, the remote seaside village of Bakkagerði in Borgarfjörður eystri experienced temperatures that would be notable in the summer months in Northeast Iceland, let alone the winter. A high of 17.6°C [63.7°F] was recorded in the village just after midnight on Friday, mbl.is reports. Only sixteen hours before, around 8:00 am on Thursday, temperatures along the fjord had hovered just below 0°C [32°F].

Temperatures also reached off-putting highs elsewhere in the East Fjords. Seyðisfjörður had the second highest temperature in the country on Friday morning: 17.3°C [63.14°F]. The heatwave only lasted briefly. For about six hours, temperatures of around 15°C [59°F] were measured in the region before falling to under 10°C [50°F] in the afternoon.

See Also: Looking Back: The Fateful Year of 1918

Friday also marked 104 years since the coldest temperatures ever recorded in Iceland. The winter of 1917-18 is known in Iceland as Frostaveturinn mikla, the Great Frost Winter. During this terrible winter, temperatures plummeted and sea ice formed around Iceland, closing off vital shipping routes and exacerbating existing shortages of vital goods. The month of January 1918 was particularly devastating, and on January 21, temperatures plummeted lower than they ever had or have done since: -24.5°C [-12.1°F] in Reykjavík, and, in Northeast Iceland, -36°C [-32.8°F] at Grímsstaðir and -38°C [-36.4°F] at Möðrudalur.

Yellow and Orange Weather Alerts Around Iceland

winter tires reykjavík

The Icelandic Met Office has issued a series of serious weather warnings for much of the country on Friday.

An orange alert has been issued for Northeast Iceland, the East Fjords, and Eastern coastal areas, where blizzard conditions are expected to begin in the early morning and continue as late as 7:00 pm. Hurricane-strength winds and moderate to heavy snowfall is expected. Slippery, snow-covered roads and limited visibility make travel inadvisable from Varmahlíð to Akureyri, Akureyri to Egilsstaðir, and Egilsstaðir to Djúpivógur.

Yellow warnings are in effect for Reykjavík and the surrounding capital area, as well as Northwest Iceland, the Southeast, and the Central Highlands. Considerable snowfall and hurricane-strength winds of up to 28 m/s are expected between Vík and Djúpivogur between noon and midnight and as such, travel is, during this time, inadvisable in the region.

There is also considerable danger of avalanches (3 on a scale of 5) in the Westfjords and mountainous areas around Reykjavík.

You can keep up to date on the most recent weather alerts by checking the Icelandic Met’s English-language page, here. Safetravel.is is another very good source of travel and weather advisories in Icelandic, English, French, German, and Chinese.