On Monday, the situation in the Geldinga Valley took a turn for the dangerous, as hikers amassed to see the eruption of a volcano that is only 20 miles from the country’s capital, Reykjavík. Due to the close proximity of the volcano to a major city, it has drawn huge crowds; Iceland’s tourism board estimates as many as 30,000 people may have come to see the volcanic eruption.
However, on Monday, what was once just cracks and steam became a dangerous lava flow. The volcano erupted, issuing globs of lava and huge steam vents into the air around the Reykjanes Peninsula volcano. “We had two new cracks opening up right around where people were walking, so […] we just clear out the area to figure out what is happening,” said rescue team member Sigurjon Veigar.
Thankfully, no one in the region was hurt due to the swift response speed of the local authorities in issuing an evacuation notice. The eruption site is far away from most of the normal hiking paths: the only people in the path of the lava are people who have hiked up to sightsee the historic volcanic activity.
And the situation is, indeed, historic. Iceland is not known for its volcanic activity. This volcano is only the first to erupt in the country in almost 800 years. When the volcano finally woke up from its centuries-long sleep on March 20, it was only after hundreds of earthquakes in the area signaled that it would be doing so.
The volcano is very close to the capital, and also the nearby Keflavik Airport. Icelandic authorities have confirmed that the current state of the volcanic eruption is posing no threat to the airport or to the capital. However, that could change: volcanoes are hard to predict, and they can erupt suddenly and violently. For instance, in 1980, the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington, USA, took many hikers by surprise and claimed over 50 lives.
Europe’s own deadliest volcanic eruption took place much longer ago than that. In 79 AD, the legendary Mt Vesuvius erupted, wiping the ancient city of Pompei off the map and claiming an estimated 13,000 or more lives. While this volcano is not expected to wreak the kind of havoc that was caused by the Vesuvius eruption, officials are still being cautious with regard to sightseers in the area.
Active volcanos continue to pose a threat to cities worldwide. Hopefully, Iceland’s volcano may go dormant once more soon.