Two Villages Evacuated Due to Avalanche Danger

avalanche neskaupstaður

The Icelandic Met Office has reported that North and East Iceland are in an “uncertainty phase”, and the East Iceland villages of Neskaupstaður and Seyðisfjörður in particular are in a “danger phase”, due to the chance for avalanches. As a result, parts of both of those villages have been evacuated until further notice.

High winds, heavy snow

The weather forecast predicted the presence of high winds and heavier snowfall moving into East Iceland over the weekend and, as reported, these weather conditions in areas with tall and steep mountains elevate the risk of avalanches. These topographical regions are most prevalent in two areas in particular in Iceland: the Westfjords, and East Iceland.

In addition to these villages being partly evacuated, Seyðisfjarðarvegur–which is the road that connects Seyðisfjörður to Egilsstaðir on Route 1–will also be closed due to the weather.

Alert to extend into evening

The weather is expected to worsen as the day progresses, but is also expected to clear up by Monday morning.

Those planning on traveling through this area during this period are strongly advised to forego those plans, and to check both the Met Office and SafeTravel for updates.

Grindavík Residents Can Stay Overnight at Own Risk

An ambulance lingers just outside of Grindavík

Grindavík residents are permitted to stay overnight in the evacuated town as of today, but do so at their own risk. The Chief of Suðurnes Police has decided to permit the town’s residents as well as those who work in the town to stay and work there without restrictions. There is currently neither hot nor cold water in the town, and the Suðurnes police notice underlines that Grindavík is not safe for children.

No water, heating, or schools

Grindavík (pop. 3,600) was initially evacuated last November due to seismic activity and the threat of an eruption. Earthquakes and three eruptions since December have opened crevasses throughout the town, and damaged buildings and roads as well as power and water infrastructure.

The notice from Suðurnes police underlines that residents enter and stay in the town at their own risk and are “responsible for their own actions or inaction.” The notice underlines that the town is “not a place for children or children at play. There are no operational schools, and infrastructure is in disrepair.” There is currently neither hot nor cold water in the town, though authorities are working to restore both.

Police chief does not recommend staying overnight

In order to enter the town, residents, workers, and media professionals will have to apply for a QR code. Those who do enter the town are advised to stick to roads and sidewalks and avoid going into lots or other open areas due to the risk posed by crevasses.

“The police chief does not expect many Grindavík residents to choose to stay in the town overnight. They are allowed to do so, but the police chief does not recommend it,” the notice continues.

The arrangement will be reviewed again on February 29, barring and major changes in the area. Land rise continues at Svartsengi, north of Grindavík, and further eruptions are expected.

Blue Lagoon Extends Closure Today, Reassessment Tomorrow

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

The Blue Lagoon will remain closed today, February 14. The company will reassess the situation tomorrow and provide updates on its website. 

Blue Lagoon evacuated, all facilities closed

Following a volcanic eruption that commenced on the morning of February 8, the management at the Blue Lagoon took precautionary measures to evacuate and temporarily close all of its facilities. 

In an update published on its website yesterday, the Blue Lagoon noted that although the eruption had ceased, a decision had been made to keep all of the facilities closed through today, Wednesday, February 14. The situation will be reassessed tomorrow and further updates will be provided on the website as soon as new information is available.

The announcement notes that all guests with bookings during this temporary closure period will be contacted. Guests wishing to modify or cancel their bookings are directed to use the My Booking portal. 

“We will continue to closely follow the guidelines and recommendations of the authorities, working collaboratively with them to monitor the progression of events. This commitment aligns with our unwavering dedication to ensuring the safety and well-being of our valued guests and staff,” the announcement reads. 

Government Considers Buying Out Grindavík Homeowners

The Icelandic government is considering buying out Grindavík homeowners who want to relocate in light of the ongoing volcanic threat to the town. At a press conference this afternoon, government ministers announced long-term measures are in the works to relieve Grindavík residents of the financial burden of owning homes in which they cannot live. The measures are still being finalised but will be put forth in a legislative bill in early February.

Unknown if or when Grindavík residents can return home

Grindavík was evacuated on November 10, 2023 due to strong earthquakes and the threat of volcanic eruption. A short but powerful eruption occurred near the town in December, and a second one in January occurred just outside the town limits, destroying three houses at the town’s northern edge.

Magma continues to collect underground at Svartsengi, north of Grindavík, and volcanologists say that further eruptions can be expected in the area. Grindavík has sustained considerable damage to infrastructure and homes, and it is unclear when residents will be able to return home.

Government aims to resolve uncertainty

The government measures introduced today are intended to resolve the uncertainty Grindavík residents have been faced with since they were evacuated from their homes last year. The measures aim to enable Grindavík residents to establish secure homes and ensure secure livelihoods while the town remains unsafe to inhabit. The government has also extended its short-term support measures for the displaced Grindavík residents.

At the press conference, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir made it clear that the government was still finalising exactly what form the assistance would take, but that it was considering both buying out Grindavík homeowners so they would have the funds to purchase housing elsewhere, as well as taking on the interest payments on their mortgages to relieve them of that financial burden.

The decision is a big one, Finance Minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir underlined. She added that government measures would impact other economic goals such as curbing persistent inflation. She outlined that the government would also explore whether it was possible to delay such a big decision as buying out homeowners through other measures that would relieve financial pressure on Grindavík residents.

 

Explained: An Update on the Geological Activity in Reykjanes

svartsengi power plant reykjanes

Magma accumulation under Svartsengi on the Reykjanes Peninsula since the December 18 eruption has increased the risk of another eruption. The head of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management warns that residents and businesses near Grindavík and Svartsengi should be prepared for possible short-notice evacuation.

What’s going on in Reykjanes?

Ever since the brief but powerful eruption in Sundhnúksgígar on the Reykjanes peninsula on December 18, magma has been steadily accumulating in the area once again. 

As noted on the MET Office’s website, there is still relatively low seismic activity in the area, mainly concentrated between Hagafell and Stóra Skógfell, where the centre of the magma dyke is located. Continuous seismic activity in Fagradalsfjall has persisted since December 18.

Land uplift is still ongoing in the Svartsengi area, which has been quite stable since the eruption on December 18. The ground has risen about 5 mm per day recently and is now about 5 cm higher than before the magma intrusion on November 10 and December 18 last year.

Model calculations, derived from deformation data (GPS and satellite imagery), indicate that the volume of magma accumulated in the horizontal magma dyke under Svartsengi since December 18 is now similar to the volume that previously flowed from the same area, forming the magma dyke that triggered the December 18 eruption.

This means there is an increased risk of a magma intrusion in the coming days. The MET Office notes that it is important to emphasise that magma intrusion can lead to a volcanic eruption and that the last eruption began with very short notice.

The MET Office issued an updated hazard map on January 5 and will reassess the map on Friday, January 12. 

Volcanic eruption on Reykjanes peninsula
Golli. The largest eruption in Reykjanes since activity began in 2019.

What’s the latest news from the Department of Civil Protection?

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Víðir Reynisson, Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, stated that reports that the volume of magma that had accumulated near the Svartsengi area on the Reykjanes Peninsula had reached a similar volume as before the last eruption had altered the situation from a civil protection point of view. 

“We are always approaching the time when a magma intrusion could begin, possibly leading to an eruption. We have received all the warnings we are going to get. The next thing that happens is that a geological event will start,” Víðir observed yesterday. 

Víðir stated that if the MET Office gets indications that this geological event is beginning, evacuations will be initiated. “The entire area will be evacuated as soon as that happens. Therefore, residents of Grindavík and those working or staying near the Svartsengi area will need to be prepared to evacuate on short notice. Such decisions could be made very quickly,” Víðir explained. “It’s not time to evacuate yet, but that could change rapidly, in the next few days or even sooner.”

Asked about the advisability of resuming business operations in Grindavík, Víðir remarked that if companies are capable of initiating a speedy evacuation, they have been given permission to resume work. 

Is an eruption in Grindavík a possibility?

Yes, although it is not the most likely scenario.

Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, a professor of geophysics at the University of Iceland, told Vísir yesterday that an eruption near Grindavík, or even in the town itself, could not be ruled out. 

Asked to comment on the likelihood of an eruption in Grindavík, Víðir stated that such a thing would be considered the most serious scenario. “It’s not the most likely scenario, but it’s not impossible. Therefore, we cannot take any chances and will not do so. We will evacuate the area entirely if this gets underway.” 

Víðir’s message to those in Grindavík is to be prepared to leave on short notice.

Rescue workers assist Grindavík residents
Rescue workers assist Grindavík residents during evacuations in November (Golli)

Will this affect travellers coming to Iceland?

No, it is highly unlikely. 

Throughout the previous four eruptions in Reykjanes, the Keflavík International Airport has remained open and so have the roads leading from the airport and into the capital area (with a few rare and very brief exceptions). 

Although there is reason for Grindavík residents and businesses, and those employed near the Svartsengi area, to be prepared for speedy evacuations, travellers visiting Iceland need not be concerned.

The Blue Lagoon remains open. For more information click here.

Grindavík Residents May Be Home for Christmas

grindavík evacuation

The evacuation order on Grindavík may be lifted in time for residents to return to their homes for Christmas, according to the Chief of Suðurnes Police. Authorities are waiting for the next risk assessment from the Icelandic Met Office to make a final decision on the matter. The Southwest Iceland town (pop. 3,600) was evacuated on November 10 due to seismic activity and the risk of a volcanic eruption.

Seismic activity has calmed

In late October and early November, a powerful earthquake swarm and land deformation damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure in Grindavík. On November 10, residents were ordered to evacuate the town, and the evacuation order remains in effect. While seismic activity has since calmed, a “danger phase” remains in effect for the Grindavík area. Residents are now permitted to enter Grindavík between 7:00 AM and 9:00 PM but are not allowed to stay overnight.

Chief of Suðurnes Police Úlfar Lúðvíksson says that most Grindavík residents have respected the evacuation order, though Vísir reports that one restauranteur refused to leave the town yesterday evening. Seismic activity in the town has calmed, as well as land rise, though it continues in the Svartsengi area north of Grindavík.

Waiting for risk assessment

“I expect the Met Office to update their risk assessment map on Wednesday,” Úlfar told Vísir. “I’m waiting for that day because we weight and evaluate the situation every day and if we believe there’s reason to lift the evacuation then, with good reasoning, then we’ll do that.”

Out of Harm’s Way

grindavík evacuation

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Chances of Eruption in Grindavík Diminishing

Svartsengi Grindavík

The most likely location of an eruption on Reykjanes is now considered to be north of Grindavík and east of Svartsengi Power Station and the Blue Lagoon, according to experts. The likelihood of an eruption has, however, diminished overall. The construction of lava barriers to protect the power station is ahead of schedule and while an evacuation order remains in effect, regulations on entering Grindavík for residents and business operators have been relaxed.

It has been a time of upheaval for the town of Grindavík (pop. 3,600), which was evacuated on November 10 amid powerful seismic activity. Earthquakes and the formation of a magma dike under the town have opened crevasses and damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure in and around Grindavík. An eruption is still considered a possibility, though the likelihood of one has diminished.

Grindavík eruption less likely

One of the reasons Grindavík was evacuated was that experts could not rule out an eruption in the town itself. Now, the most likely location of an eruption is considered to be between Sýlingarfell and Hagafell mountains, northeast of Grindavík and east of Svartsengi Power Station and the Blue Lagoon.

Data indicates that magma is continuing to stream into the magma dike that stretches below Grindavík and northeast from the town. However, some experts have suggested that the magma in the dike is partly solidified, though it would take months for it to solidify fully. While an eruption is still possible, it is considered to be less likely than previously believed. The likelihood of an eruption within the town limits of Grindavík is also considered less and less likely to occur.

Lava barriers ahead of schedule

The construction of lava barriers, which began around two weeks ago, is ahead of schedule, the Director of the Civil Protection and Emergency Management Department told RÚV. The barriers are to surround Svartsengi Power Plant and the neighbouring Blue Lagoon, and are expected to take 30-40 days to complete.

While an evacuation order remains in effect for Grindavík, authorities have relaxed restrictions for the town’s residents and businesses, who are permitted to enter the town in order to take care of their property and retrieve belongings. Some businesses have also begun operating once more during daytime hours. While some of the town’s water and power infrastructure sustained damage in the recent earthquakes, water and power are functional in much of the town and repairs are being conducted.

Iceland’s Parliament passed a bill yesterday to provide financial support to businesses in Grindavík whose operations are impacted by the evacuation. The support is intended to help businesses continue to pay out employee salaries over the coming months.

Months Before Grindavík Residents Can Return Home

It will be months before all residents of the Southwest Iceland town of Grindavík can return home. Iceland’s government held a press conference at 11:30 AM this morning to present an action plan on housing support for the town’s residents, who were evacuated from their homes on November 10 amid powerful earthquakes and the threat of a volcanic eruption.

Financial support and rental apartments

Grindavík residents will receive financial support to help them cover rent payments on temporary housing. The amount of support will be based on the number of people in each household. Rental company Bríet will buy up to 150 apartments on the market in order to make them available to displaced Grindavík residents, and rental company Bjarg will buy up to 60 specifically intended for lower-income households.

A working group is also exploring the possibility of importing housing units. Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir says that housing support measures will be discussed in Parliament next week. Katrín stated that she expects a bill on financial support for Grindavík residents to be passed next week as well.

Utilities infrastructure to determine when residents can return

When Grindavík residents will be permitted to return home depends on the state of the town’s utilities infrastructure, some of which was damaged by powerful earthquakes earlier this month. Grindavík municipal authorities are to have the state of utilities infrastructure assessed. It is possible that residents will be permitted to move back into the town in stages, as the amount of damage varies between districts.

The town remains under an evacuation order for the time being. While the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management have lowered their emergency phase to a danger phase, experts say there is still a possibility of volcanic eruption in the area. The most likely location of an eruption is currently considered to be near Hagafell mountain, northeast of Grindavík.

RÚV Apologises for Misconduct of Photographer in Grindavík

Grindavík earthquakes crevasse

Yesterday, a Grindavík resident shared footage of a RÚV photographer trying to enter her evacuated home, sparking disapproval on social media. RÚV and the involved photographer subsequently issued apologies, acknowledging that the actions violated the news organisation’s ethical standards.

Not in line with ethical standards

Yesterday afternoon, a Grindavík resident shared footage from her Ring camera of a RÚV photographer attempting to enter her home, which had been evacuated owing to ongoing geological unrest in the area: “A journalist walked up to my house earlier today, took pictures, tried to open doors, and then looked for a key!” Incensed by the incident, the woman requested that journalists leave the homes of Grindavík residents “alone.”

RÚV subsequently expressed its regret over the incident and offered an apology to the residents of the house and to the people of Grindavík. Heiðar Örn Sigurfinnsson, News Director of RÚV, emphasised that the behaviour was not in line with RÚV’s code of ethics:

“Our journalists have strived to report on the events in Grindavík with respect for the residents and their properties. The practices seen in the video do not reflect the editorial guidelines or the ethos of the newsroom. We have traced the incident back to a misunderstanding and haste at the scene, but will subsequently review our procedures and guidelines, emphasising to all field reporters the importance of respecting the privacy and properties of Grindavík residents, and not causing them any more discomfort or distress than they are already experiencing.”

Photographer apologises

Following RÚV’s press release, the photographer in question, Ragnar Visage, apologised for his behaviour on social media:

“Dear friends, as I am probably the most unpopular person of the day, I sincerely apologise for my behaviour in Grindavík today. I was in a complete rush, and I was the only one left in town (apart from the first responders), and I was asked to capture indoor footage. In a moment of utter thoughtlessness, and amidst all the chaos, it seemed most straightforward to try to enter the nearest house. Idiotic, I know! I have received considerable reprimands from rescue workers, understandably, and have sincerely apologised to them. This behaviour is in no way in line with the principles of RÚV or the spirit in which the newsroom operates.”