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Iceland Declares State of Emergency as Volcanic Threat Grows

Experts predict an escalating risk of a volcanic explosion in Iceland, endangering evacuated settlements. The head of the National Police declared a state of emergency in civil defence due to powerful earthquakes near Sundhnjukagigar, north of Grindavik, according to a statement from the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management. Authorities state that "the quake could be even bigger than the one that has already occurred, and this series of events could lead to a volcanic eruption."


As a precaution, thousands of Grindavik residents in the southwest have been told to evacuate. The Icelandic Civil Defence Agency notes that the potential for "magma tunnels currently being formed could reach Grindavik" necessitated the decision to evacuate.


On Friday, the organisation emphasised that this was not an "emergency evacuation," urging residents to "remain calm as we have enough time to respond." The press release continued: "There is no imminent danger, and the evacuation is primarily precautionary, with the safety of all Grindavik residents as the primary goal."


All highways leading to the town, housing 4,000 residents, have been blocked to maintain traffic movement, except for emergencies.


Since late October, the region's ground has risen by 9 centimetres (3.5 inches), according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO). An eruption can occur "within days," with an increased chance near the Reykjanes Peninsula since morning.

Iceland, above a volcanic hotspot erupting every four to five years, faced the catastrophic 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption, blocking European airspace.


After 800 years of dormancy, the Reykjanes Peninsula's volcanic system erupted thrice since 2021: March 2021, August 2022, and July 2023. These eruptions occurred distant from infrastructure or high population areas.


The IMO reports 24,000 earthquakes since late October on the peninsula, with about 800 intensive earthquakes on Friday between midnight and two o'clock GMT.


At a depth of around 3.1 miles (5 km), the IMO observed magma accumulation. "The most likely scenario is that it would take days rather than hours for the magma to reach the surface," stated the report. "If fissures develop where seismic activity is now most active, lava will flow to the southeast and west, but not to Grindavik."


Following another earthquake on Thursday, the Blue Lagoon, adjacent to Grindavik, closed as a precaution.


The nearby Svartsengi geothermal power station, vital for the Reykjanes Peninsula's water and electricity, has backup procedures in case of eruption, safeguarding the plant and its employees.


Iceland, boasting Europe's most active volcano systems, has 33.


In summary, while Iceland faces an increased volcanic risk, the evacuation is precautionary, offering residents time to respond. The situation continues to be monitored, prioritising the safety of the population.



Editor: Marina Ramzy Mourid

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