Home for the Holidays: Grindavík Welcomes Back Residents

Grindavík - Þorbjörn

Beginning tomorrow, December 23, Grindavík residents will be allowed to return and stay overnight in town. Following the subsidence of the volcanic eruption near Sýlingafell, the authorities have decided to downgrade the alert status in Grindavík from an Emergency Phase to a Danger Phase.

Christmas after all

Beginning tomorrow, December 23 (The Mass of St. Thorlac, i.e. Þorláksmessa), the residents of Grindavík are permitted to enter and even stay overnight in the town, Vísir reports. Christmas in Grindavík will, therefore, be celebrated after all, at least by those Grindavík residents who wish to do so. This was noted in an announcement from the Police Commissioner of Suðurnes. The situation will be reassessed on December 27. 

The statement also notes that starting from December 23, roadblocks will be established on Grindavíkurvegur, Nesvegur, and Suðurstrandarvegur. These measures allow Grindavík residents, business owners, and their employees to bypass the roadblocks at any time and permit overnight stays within the town. However, access beyond these roadblocks is currently restricted to unrelated individuals, while major media outlets are granted passage.

Alert status lowered to Danger

As noted by Vísir, experts from the Icelandic MET Office at 9.30 AM today to review the latest data. At 1:00 PM, the MET Office held another meeting with the Police Commissioner in Suðurnes and the Commissioner of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

Based on the latest risk assessment map from the Icelandic MET Office, Grindavík still faces a significant risk of natural disasters. Following indications that the volcanic eruption near Sundhnúkagígar, which started on December 18, has ceased, the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, in consultation with the Police Commissioner of Suðurnes, has opted to lower the alert status from an Emergency Phase to a Danger Phase.

Grindavík Homecoming Unlikely in the Near Term

Photo from the mandatory evacuation of Grindavík in Reykajnes

The town of Grindavík has suffered significant earthquake damage, impacting homes and infrastructure. The Head of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management told reporters yesterday that the ongoing uncertainty regarding a possible eruption means that it is unlikely that Grindavík residents will be able to return to their homes in the near future.

More damage than expected

The town of Grindavík, on the Reykjanes peninsula, was succesfully evacuated during the early hours of Saturday, November 12, amid concerns that the intrusion of magma, believed to extend beneath the town, would reach the surface. An emergency phase was declared, and the Red Cross set up three emergency relief centres.

The quakes continued into Saturday. By Sunday, it was clear that major damage being inflicted on the the town, affecting houses, roads, and infrastructure. “The town has suffered extensive damage,” Úlfar Lúðvíksson, Chief of Police in Suðurnes, told RÚV during the evening news yesterday.

Parts of the town have been without hot water and electricity owing to damage to the distribution system of the HS Veitur utility company. Large parts of Grindavík have been too hazardous to enter, and HS Veitur has not allowed its employees to venture into those areas for repairs.

New assessment expected tomorrow

A new assessment from the Icelandic Meteorological Office is awaited and expected to be published tomorrow. The new assessment will provide a clearer picture of the situation, including whether the magma is still rising and how close it has risen to the surface.

Seismic activity has, however, significantly decreased since Friday and Saturday. “There is nothing to suggest that there will be a significant eruption,” Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, a professor of geophysics, told reporters yesterday, noting that he believes the likelihood of an undersea eruption has diminished.

Unlikely that residents can return soon

Despite a decrease in seismic activity, it is unlikely that Grindavík residents will be able to return to their homes in the near future – even if a volcanic eruption does not occur in the next few days.

Víðir Reynisson, Department Manager of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, told RÚV yesterday that events were still unfolding, and even if seismic activity continued over the two weeks without an eruption, the evacuation would remain in effect: “Even if the activity completely stops, and scientists believe that this event is over, it will take some time before we can be certain that this activity will not pick up again. Only then will residents be allowed to return home,” Víðir explained.

Víðir also noted that if an eruption occurs that is far from Grindavík, the evacuation would continue to be in place; such an eruption could last for some time.

Admitted into the safest neighbourhood

Residents of the Þórkötlustaðahverfi neighbourhood in Grindavík, in the easternmost part of town, were afforded a brief window (ca. 5 minutes) to retrieve their belongings and pets yesterday. One resident, having received help from two Keflavík residents, managed to retrieve 66 animals: 35 sheep, 20 hens, and a cat.

The organisation Dýrfinna has collected information about animals left behind in Grindavík, which include 58 cats, 2 rabbits, 2 hamsters, 49 horses, 50 chickens, 13 parrots, 130 pigeons, 204 sheep, and 15,000 chickens. Despite hoping that they would be allowed to enter Grindavík to rescue pets, the authorities refused to admit anyone into the town, aside from residents of the Þórkötlustaðahverfi neighbourhood.

Decisions made tomorrow morning

Once a new risk assessment is available tomorrow morning, a decision will be made regarding the next steps. “We are doing what we can to accommodate the people of Grindavík, allowing them to access essential items in their homes,” Úlfar Lúðvíksson told RÚV yesterday.

Number of Icelandic Residents Nearing 400,000

Locals and tourists enjoy the sunshine in Reykjavík's Austurvöllur square.

The number of Icelandic residents increased by 2,570 in the fourth quarter of last year, Vísir reports. The increase means that a total of 387,800 people were living in Iceland at the end of 2022.

Most Icelanders emigrated to Denmark

According to a press release from Statistics Iceland, a total of 387,800 people were living in Iceland at the end of the fourth quarter of 2022 (an increase of 2,570): “199,840 men, 187,840 women, and 130 were transgender/other.” Of these 387,800 people, 247,590 people were residing in the capital area, compared to 140,210 in the rest of the country.

The press release also notes that during the fourth quarter of 2022, “1,040 children were born and 650 people died. At the same time, 2,110 more people immigrated to the country than emigrated; Icelandic citizens who emigrated from the country exceeded the number of citizens who returned to the country by 60. Meanwhile, foreign citizens who immigrated to Iceland were 2,170 more numerous than those who emigrated from the country. More men than women emigrated from the country,” the announcement states.

Most of the Icelandic citizens who emigrated left for Denmark, or 110 people during the quarter in question. “230 Icelandic citizens moved to Denmark, Norway, and Sweden out of a total of 430. Of the 1,150 foreign nationals who left the country, most, or 340 people, went to Poland.”

Similarly, most of the Icelandic citizens who returned to Iceland arrived from Denmark, or 140. Forty people arrived from Norway and 70 from Sweden. Most of the foreign nationals who immigrated to Iceland arrived from Poland, or 720 out of a total of 3,320 foreign immigrants. The second most numerous group of foreign nationals immigrating to Iceland originated from Ukraine, or 580. Foreign citizens were 65,090 or 16.8% of the total population.

A population projection from Statistics Iceland predicts that Iceland’s population will be 461,000 in 2069.