Iceland declares state of emergency, evacuates over threat of volcanic eruption

Raul Moreno/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/AP

A lava field formed after the eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano in 2021. The site is close to the town of Grindavik on Iceland’s southwest coast.


Iceland has declared a state of emergency, with police urging residents to evacuate the coastal town of Grindavík after an intense wave of earthquakes in the southwest of the country linked to a possible volcanic eruption.

Almost 800 earthquakes were recorded between midnight and 2pm on Friday, with the lowest at a depth of 3-3.5 kilometers (1.86-2.18 miles), according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office.

In statements on Friday, Iceland’s Civil Protection Agency said a magma tunnel being formed could reach Grindavík. But as of Friday night, the Icelandic authority said it has been impossible to say if and where the magma could break through to the surface.

“Earthquakes could become larger than those that have already occurred, and this sequence of events could lead to an eruption. However, there is still no sign that the magma is approaching the surface. Its progress is being closely monitored,” the Civil Protection Agency said .

Magma is a mixture of molten and semi-molten rock found below the earth’s surface that can cause an eruption when it finds its way to the surface and turns into lava.

Authorities urged residents to evacuate calmly, stressing that there is no imminent danger.

“We would like to reiterate that the residents MUST evacuate their homes and leave the city. But we would also like to reiterate that this is not an emergency evacuation, there is plenty of time to prepare, secure things and drive calmly out of the city,” says the Civil Protection Agency.

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“It is clear that we are dealing with events that we Icelanders have not experienced before, at least not since the eruption in Vestmannaeyjar. We faced it together, we will face this together and we will not lose heart,” the Civil Protection Agency added.

The US Embassy in Iceland issued a volcanic alert warning of the increased signs of volcanic activity.

“In the event of an eruption, follow the instructions of the Icelandic authorities. Volcanic hazards may include lava, toxic gases and heavy smoke from fires ignited by lava,” it said.

The world famous Blue Lagoon thermal pool in the area is already closed due to the ongoing seismic activity.

Since 2021, there has been an eruption almost every 12 months, with the most recent occurring in July south of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.

Iceland sits on a tectonic plate boundary that is constantly splitting apart, pushing North America and Eurasia apart along the line of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is home to 32 active volcanoes.