Grindavík Evacuated Again Due to Crevasse Risks

Grindavík earthquakes crevasse

Grindavík, the Reykjanes peninsula town of 3,800 people that was evacuated due to seismic activity in November, will be evacuated again Monday evening. The reason is ongoing danger of crevasses opening up in the area without warning. No unauthorised personnel will be allowed within the town limits for three weeks.

Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson announced this in a press conference today and expressed his sympathies to the family of a man who fell into a crevasse in Grindavík Wednesday. Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir also addressed attendees and promised government action to provide evacuated families with housing. She added that she hoped that the town would be safe and habitable again by this summer or fall.

Following seismic activity for months, a volcanic eruption began at Sundhnúkagígar, north of Grindavík, on December 18 and lasted for three days. By Christmas, the residents of Grindavík were permitted to go back to their homes and businesses were allowed to reopen. However, crustal uplift continues in the nearby Svartsengi area and the Icelandic Meteorological Office warns that a new eruption could begin at any time.

Search for man discontinued

Further search and rescue operations for the man who fell down a crevasse are not justifiable for safety reasons, the Suðurnes police commissioner announced today. Search was called off Friday on the third day of operations, due to concerns over hazard to the rescue group. “A man died there and there was a collapse in the crevasse,” commissioner Úlfar Lúðvíksson told Vísir. “This is an indication about the dangers at play. In my estimation, this is the correct decision. We can’t search under these circumstances, unfortunately.

Úlfar warned that the situation of crevasses opening up within town limits was unprecedented. “Like we’ve repeatedly stated, I advise people to stay out of town,” he said earlier today before evacuation was announced. “There are crevasses all over and they’re treacherous. They are opening up. During this operation, this horrible event, we could see how deep they are. How life-threatening they are.”

Eruption Near Grindavík Remains Likely

Grindavík seismic activity and potential eruption

A volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula remains a likely outcome, according to a notice from the Icelandic Met Office today. Crustal uplift continues in the Svartsengi area and is now at a higher level than in early November when a magma intrusion formed under the town of Grindavík. The town’s population of over 3,000 people was evacuated November 10 and remains displaced, after seismic activity and a magma dike opened crevasses and damaged roads, homes, and infrastructure.

Crustal uplift has slowed down over the weekend, but remains at a high level, the Met Office has confirmed. “As long as magma continues to accumulate by Svartsengi, there remains likelihood of a new magma propagation and also an eruption,” the notice states. If a magma propagation occurs, the most likely scenario is that the magma will propagate from Svartsengi into the previously formed dike that formed on November 10. The most likely place for an eruption would then be north of Grindavík, in the direction of Hagafell mountain and the Sundhjúksgígar area. Seismic activity has remained stable and low for the last few days and mostly contained near Hagafell.

Estimate of ISK 10 billion in Grindavík damages

The damage to homes and infrastructure in Grindavík could amount to ISK 10 billion [$71.4 million, €66.3 million], according to the director of the Natural Catastrophe Insurance of Iceland. Before paying out damages, authorities must reconsider the town’s zoning plan and whether some areas will be deemed no longer safe for residential housing. 230 properties have been reported damaged.

Blue Lagoon, the popular tourist destination on Reykjanes peninsula, announced Friday that its current closure will remain in effect until Thursday, at which point the situation will be reassessed. There remains no official estimate on if or when an eruption could occur. It is also not clear when it would be safe for Grindavík residents to return to their homes.

What’s happening with animals in Grindavík?

reykjanes grindavík animal

When the residents of Grindavík were evacuated on the night of November 10, they were instructed to only bring the bare essentials and to leave as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, many animals were left behind, including domestic pets such as cats and dogs and livestock such as horses and sheep.

Given the potential risk, the decision was taken to expedite the evacuation, and the Suðurnes Chief of Police stated at the time that it would not be possible to save livestock and farm animals from the defined danger, but arrangements would be made at a later time.

Over the following days, Grindavík residents were allowed back into the town to gather belongings and rescue any animals left behind. Households were instructed to only go if necessary, and only one person per household was allowed back into town for a limited time. Many Grindavík residents used the opportunity to rescue their household pets, in addition to any horses and sheep they own. 

Animal welfare organisations in Iceland assisted with searching for lost pets in the area, and as of November 15, most pets and animals that were left behind during the initial evacuation have been retrieved. One cat- and dog hotel offered to put up Grindavík pets free of charge.

Dýrfinna, a search and rescue group for animals, stated on November 13 that there were only 12 animals still unaccounted for.