Significant Damage After Residential Fire

Significant damage occurred after a fire broke out in a multi-family house in Akureyri, RÚV reports.

A fire began in a multi-family house in Akureyri early this morning, and although the fire brigade quickly managed to control the blaze, significant damage was done to the building.

RÚV reports that the fire has since been successfully extinguished.

Gunnar Rúnar Ólafsson, the fire chief in Akureyri, stated that a significant amount of smoke was coming from the house when the fire brigade arrived. No residents were inside the apartment that caught fire, and they managed to extinguish the fire quickly, in about half an hour.

The building in question is home to four apartments.

Gunnar stated that there is no further information about the source of the fire.

 

Large Fire in Reykjanesbær

fire in reykjanesbær

A fire broke out in an industrial building at the corner of Víkurbraut and Hrannargata in Reykjanesbær today.

Vísir states that all Reykjanes Fire Department vehicles have arrived at the scene, and firefighting efforts are underway.

The fire is in a building located at Víkurbraut 4, an industrial building from 1973. The building is not in current use, but was used previously as a storage site for Icelandair.

The extent of damage to the building is uncertain at this time. Jón Guðlaugsson, the chief firefighter at the South Peninsula Fire Department, stated to Vísir that the fire is confined to this building, and no one is inside.

“It is progressing slowly and steadily. We have been able to make significant progress in controlling it,” stated Jón. “The roof is starting to collapse in parts… Most of the supports are giving way.”

No further information is available at this time.

Explosion and Smoke from a Reykjavík Restaurant Last Night

police car

Police and firefighters responded to a call around 2:00 last night at the Dubliner, a bar in downtown Reykjavík. An explosion and smoke were reported as issuing from the bar. No one was reported injured in the incident.

According to a statement by an on-duty officer in the fire department, something had been thrown into the bar, but the fire department could not tell the exact nature of the object. When firefighters arrived on the scene, they reported smoke, but no fire.

“There was a window pane that was smashed to bits,” reported a firefighter to Vísir. “Our task was to clear the smoke out of the area, but it’s the police that are investigating the matter.”

This is notable as the second night in a row that Reykjavík police and firefighters have been called out to respond to firebomb attacks in the Reykjavík area. The previous night, two firebomb attacks were reported in Fossvogur in Reykjavík and in Hafnarfjörður.

Reykjavík police have confirmed that the incidents are connected to the recent stabbings at a Reykjavík night club, which authorities believe stems from a gang conflict.

 

The recent spate of violence has caused both American and British embassies in Iceland to issue travel advisories to tourists, warning them to avoid large crowds downtown this weekend.

Dramatic Helicopter Maneuvering Saves Life

TF-GRÓ Icelandic Coast Guard Helicopter

An Icelandic coast guard helicopter likely saved a man’s life last Friday when it flew backwards for five kilometres to Ísafjörður.

The dramatic manoeuvre was needed because of weather conditions in Ísafjörður, and doctors at the National Hospital of Iceland say that the helicopter crew’s decisive action likely saved the man’s life.

This story was first reported by Vísir.

Rough conditions

Conditions were extreme in Ísafjörður when the call for help came to Iceland’s coast guard last Friday, with wind ranging between 35 to 40 m/s, and little to no visibility.

Andri Jóhannesson, helicopter pilot in the coast guard, stated that the mission was one of the most difficult he had been a part of in his 15-year career.

Andri stated to Vísir that when the crew arrived in the Westfjords, wind conditions were so bad that it was not possible to fly straight into Ísafjörður like usual.

With a strong north-northwest wind, it would have been extremely dangerous to fly into the fjord, but nevertheless, the crew tried twice to fly into the fjord at a low altitude. However, the zero-visibility conditions made this impossible.

A hard decision

After these failed attempts, the crew was forced to make a roadside landing in order to assess the situation further.

When the crew took stock of the situation, it was clear that they were running low on fuel. The crew had flown in a stiff headwind all the way from Reykjavík, and the multiple attempts at entering the fjord had forced them to spend more time in the air than they had planned.

The crew would not be able to make it to Bolungarvík, a village near Ísafjörur, and the location of the patient. The crew would be forced to land in Ísafjörður to refuel and pick up the patient there.

Flying with their nose in the wind

Given the conditions, the crew realised they would not be able to fly the usual way, with the wind at their back, as it would be impossible to turn the helicopter to land in Ísafjörður. The decision was made to instead fly with “their nose in the wind,” that is, backwards, for a total of five kilometres.

This, however, was not the end of the drama. Given the low visibility, flight mechanic Árni Freyr had to lead the way. With the back of the helicopter open, Árni directed the final approach of the helicopter. In a harness and partially hanging out of the helicopter, Árni led the crew like this for some 20 minutes.

Upon landing in Ísafjörður and taking on the patient, the helicopter was forced to perform a “hot refuelling,” in which the engine stays on. Given the harsh winds, it may have been impossible to start the rotors again if the engine was turned off during the refuelling process.

A life saved

The patient, who had suffered a heart attack, was immediately sent into surgery upon arrival in Reykjavík, and doctors claim he would have died without the crew’s bravery.

The story, dramatic as it is, highlights the critical role played by emergency services in Iceland. Many remote parts of Iceland become largely inaccessible during the winter. Often, there is only one rescue helicopter on call, and there have been calls to increase funding to the coast guard and search and rescue services.

 

 

Four Nurses Resign from Emergency Ward

Emergency room

Four nurses have resigned from their positions at the National Hospital’s Emergency Ward since yesterday, citing unacceptable working conditions and strain, RÚV reports. Ten other resignations took effect last March, and ER Department Head Helga Rósa Másdóttir says staffing shortages are already affecting the ward’s operations.

The emergency ward at Iceland’s National University Hospital has 30 beds. Nearly 100 patients were registered there yesterday, 33 of which should have been in other wards that could not admit them due to lack of space. Some patients waited over five hours for medical attention.

Such days have become the norm rather than the exception, according to Soffia Steingrímsdóttir, a nurse who resigned from the ER yesterday after seven years in the position. In a Facebook post, Soffia stated that she loves her job, but has given up hope that the situation at the ER will improve.

Cuts elsewhere impact emergency services

Helga Rósa told RÚV she is concerned it will be impossible to fully staff the ER this summer when many of its regular staff go on vacation. Staffing shortages are already affecting the department, which cannot utilise all of its space because it does not have enough staff to monitor the entire area. Helga says cuts elsewhere in the healthcare system come down on the ER, which ends up with patients on its hands that should be treated elsewhere but are turned away for lack of room.

Emergency ward staff have been vocal about the ward’s situation for years, stressing that staffing shortages and poor conditions put patients at risk. In 2019, a partial audit published by the Directorate of Health found neither lodging nor staffing conditions at the emergency ward fulfilled regulations and that the ward could not ensure patients’ rights regarding care. In the wake of the audit, the Director of Health recommended increasing staff at the ward, particularly nurses, as well as reviewing their wages and working conditions.

Emergency Ward Staff Shortage Puts Patients at Risk

emergency department hospital

Management at the National University Hospital of Iceland is working to address the doctor and nurse shortage at the hospital’s emergency ward, RÚV reports. This summer 500 shifts at the ward are expected to have a shortage of nurses and four doctors at the ward have resigned so far this year. While staff has been vocal about conditions at the ward for years, Director of the Emergency Doctors’ Association Bergur Stefánsson says staffing issues have never been worse.

Bergur says Iceland’s Director of Health has sent around five reports and memoranda to the Minister of Health since 2018 addressing the emergency department’s issues. Despite those communications, “The situation has definitely not improved.” He adds that staffing issues among physicians have never been worse and if conditions at the ward do not improve, it will be impossible to ensure patients’ safety. “And with that, we are putting them at risk.”

Partial Audit Gave Ward a Failing Grade

In 2019, a partial audit published by the Directorate of Health found neither lodging nor staffing conditions at the emergency ward fulfilled regulations and that the ward could not ensure patients’ rights regarding care. “Now it has come to pass that the problem is of such magnitude that we cannot let these conditions go on,” the audit stated. “It can create grounds for unexpected incidents and the risk of additional staff dropout.”

National Hospital representatives have stated they are working to address the expected summer staff shortage as quickly as possible. The 2019 audit however stated that fully addressing the ward’s issues would require broader support from authorities. Bergur says emergency doctors have requested a meeting with the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Welfare Committee, but have been rejected. “We need real action to be taken, real improvements.”

Seyðisfjörður Mudslides: Hundreds Displaced, Hope to Return By Christmas

Seyðisfjörður landslide almannavarnir

Some residents of Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland (pop. 659) have been permitted to return to the town following mudslides that destroyed several homes in the town centre. Nearly 300 cannot return to their homes as of yet. Many of the buildings hit by mudslides over the past several days were historic. No injuries have been reported.

All of East Iceland has been experiencing extremely heavy rainfall recently and state of uncertainty is in effect in the entire region due to risk of landslides. The state of alert is higher in Seyðisfjörður. After many days of record rainfall that saturated the steep slopes above the town, it was hit by several mudslides last Friday and over the weekend. Most Seyðisfjörður residents, or 581, were evacuated from their homes last Friday, but 305 were permitted to return home yesterday afternoon after weather conditions improved. A further 276 have not yet been permitted to return. Authorities have asked all others to stay away from the area.

Hope Most Residents Can Return Home By Christmas

Response teams met this morning to review the conditions in the town, which are being constantly monitored. Conditions have improved significantly since the rain let up and authorities have expressed the hope that most of Seyðisfjörður’s residents will be permitted to return home before Christmas but it is unlikely to be all residents. More news is expected on that front this afternoon.

The mudslides knocked out power to some parts of Seyðisfjörður. Crews are working to restore electricity to the affected areas. The municipality of Mulaþing will hold an online town hall meeting for Seyðisfjörður residents via its Facebook page at 4.00pm today.

A partial evacuation was also conducted last Friday in Eskifjörður, East Iceland, due to a risk of mudslides. None fell in residential areas of the town, and residents have since been permitted to return home.

Yet Another Mudslide in Seyðisfjörður, Whole Town To Be Evacuated

mud and water after Seyðisfjörður mudslide

The National Police Commissioner has decided to raise the level of distress in Seyðisfjörður from alert to emergency after yet another large mudslide hit several buildings in town around three pm, sweeping at least one building away, in addition to the one destroyed during the night.

A large mudslide hit the town at three pm today. Several houses were damaged and one was completely destroyed. Parts of the town are now without electricity. There are conflicting reports on whether the mudslide fell within or outside the evacuation area, but no injuries have been reported, and the whole town will now be evacuated. Everyone currently in Seyðisfjörður is asked to present themselves at the Herðubreið community centre, acting as a temporary Red Cross Emergency Response Centre, or to call 1717. All search-and-rescue teams in East Iceland have been called and police from the capital area, the National Police Commisioner’s special forces and the northeast Iceland police have also been sent to Seyðisfjörður.

According to RÚV’s reporters, the outer part of town is without electricity and SAR team members will have to go by boat to repair it.

According to forecast, the torrential rain Seyðisfjörður has been experiencing for the past week is expected to let up tomorrow.

Seyðisfjörður Mudslide Sweeps House Off Foundation

During the night, two large mudslides fell on Seyðisfjörður in east Iceland, where heavy rains have caused dangerous conditions for the past week. The larger one swept away a house, which shifted 50 metres off its foundation. Evacuation zones were extended yesterday, but the weather forecast expects the rain to let up tomorrow.

House swept away

Yesterday, the evacuation zone was extended and during the night, two large mudslides fell from Nautaklauf cliff. The first one just after 1 am and another about two hours later, both in the same channel as the largest mudslide last Tuesday. The latter swept away an empty timber house known as Breiðablik and shifted it 50 m off its foundation. The house in question stood within the evacuation zone and is destroyed. After the event, the risk was reassessed and a few buildings more were evacuated. While Seyðisfjörður residents have been away from their homes since Tuesday, they’ve been able to enter their homes with an escort to retrieve personal belongings and necessities. Ten people from the newly evacuated buildings spent the night in the Red Cross Emergency Response Centre but most have been able to find shelter with friends and relatives.

Seyðsfjörður house swept off foundation in mudslide
Bjarki Borgþórsson. The house known as Breiðablik was swept 50 m (164 feet) off its foundation before it hit a petrol station

Extreme rains

Seyðisfjörður saw heavy rain yesterday evening and during the night. While it let up this morning, some rainfall is expected this afternoon. Since December 11, cumulative precipitation is around 650 mm, which is extreme. Water flows through the streets and the town’s sewage system is at capacity. The town’s main street is impassable due to water and mud and people are asked not to travel in town, especially in smaller cars. Seyðisfjörður residents are holding off on pumping water from cellars as evacuation orders are still in effect, and due to the rain, the cellars would likely fill up again quickly.

Seyðisfjörður building swept off foundation in mudslide.
Bjarki Borgþórsson. The building is completely destroyed.

Largest known mudslides but still risk of more

The area is known to have occasional mudslides but the ones this week might be the largest to have ever fallen there, according to the Iceland Meteorological Office’s experts. Despite the large mudslides, there is still loose matter in several spots in the water-saturated mountainside, meaning there’s still a risk of mudslides. With less rain this morning, the risk of mudslides is lower, but more rain is expected in the afternoon before it lets up tomorrow.

Following the mudslides last Tuesday, the conditions of homes were inspected. Even before the mudslides during the night, there was some damage and several houses were flooded with water and mud. The locals report a spirit of solidarity and have been hard at work to clear streets when possible.

No unnecessary travel

Due to infection prevention regulation, the police has issued a request that people avoid unnecessary travel to Seyðisfjörður during the emergency. There have been no COVID-19 infections in east Iceland for a few weeks now and the police request that travellers, reporters, experts, and others hold off travel to Seyðisfjörður so as not to introduce any infections to a town already under great duress.

 

Domestic Abuse Assistance Now Available Via Online Chat

Emergency assistance for people experiencing domestic violence is now available not only by calling Iceland’s emergency number, 112, but also via online chat on their website. This is the first time that people have been able to seek emergency assistance online. The website, 112.is, is only available in Icelandic for now but is currently being translated into both English and Polish.

The initiative is intended to make it easier for those who are experiencing domestic violence to receive the help they need, particularly those who feel unable to make a phone call or who believe that they’ve been in a violent situation too long to report it. The portal is also open to perpetrators of domestic violence seeking assistance and treatment, as well as those who are concerned that someone close to them is experiencing violence in the home.

Domestic violence increased during the first wave of COVID

The 112 chat portal was announced during the COVID-19 press conference on Thursday. As National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir explained, there was an increase in domestic violence during the first wave of the pandemic, as evidenced by a 15% increase in notifications to child protective services and a 14% in reports to police of intimate partner violence as compared to last year’s average.

In response to this, in May, Minister for Social Affairs and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason and Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir appointed a working group tasked with developing and coordinating measures to address domestic violence in times of economic and social distress.

Four proposals to better address domestic violence and assist survivors

The online 112 portal is one of four proposals announced by the working group in a press release on the government’s website on Thursday. A public awareness campaign about recognizing signs of domestic violence will also be launched in the winter of 2020-21 and will be based around the 112.is website. The campaign will be rolled out in phases, each of which will focus on specific groups who are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence.

The group also proposed that an online cognitive therapy programme to treat trauma be developed in collaboration with the National University Hospital’s psychiatric ward, the Directorate of Health’s National Centre for e-Health, and the Development Centre for Primary Health Care in Iceland.

Thirdly, they suggested that the parental resources available to all parents before the birth of a child and through the first 1,000 days of a child’s life be further developed. These materials should aim to strengthen parental skills so as to reduce the likeliness of neglect, abuse, and violence against children. Parents and children in vulnerable or at-risk circumstances will receive particular attention.

Lastly, the group proposed that a new electronic processing system be developed within the healthcare system, so as to improve healthcare professionals’ responses to cases of domestic violence.

Altogether, it’s expected that these measures will cost ISK 66.7 million [$478,307; € 408,816]. The working group is led by Commissioner Sigríður Björk and former Progressive Party MP and Minister for Social Affairs and Housing Eygló Harðadóttir and will continue its work through January 31, 2021.