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Icelandic volcano erupts yet again, nearby town evacuated

Another volcanic eruption in Iceland
Volcano erupts in Iceland, causing another round of evacuations 01:33

Icelandic police declared a state of emergency late Saturday as lava spewed from a new volcanic fissure on the Reykjanes peninsula, the fourth eruption to hit the area since December.

A "volcanic eruption has started between stora Skogfell and Hagafell on the Reykjanes Peninsula," said a statement from the Icelandic Met Office. Live video images showed glowing lava and billowing smoke.

Iceland's Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management announced it had sent a helicopter to narrow down the exact location of the new fissure. The authority also said the police had declared a state of emergency due to the eruption.

Icelandic volcano erupts again, nearby town evacuated
The skyline of Reykjavik is against the backdrop of orange-colored sky due to molten lava flowing out from a fissure on the Reykjanes peninsula north of the evacuated town of Grindavik, in western Iceland, on March 16, 2024.  HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP via Getty Images

According to the IMO, it occurred close to the same location as a previous eruption on Feb. 8. Lava appeared to flow south towards the dykes built to protect the fishing village Grindavik, it said. Lava was also flowing west, as it had on Feb. 8. The length of the fissure was estimated to be 1.8 miles, said the IMO.

Minutes before the eruption, the agency had issued a statement saying that seismic activity indicated that there was an increased chance of an eruption.

"I've never experienced anything like that before," said Melissa Ezair, a tourist visiting the area who said she had just sat down to dinner with her husband when they heard the siren.

"We heard the sound go off and that's when me and my husband looked at each other, and they said evacuation en route."

On Sunday, scientists said the eruption appeared to be weakening and would probably peter out within hours, The Associated Press reported.

The eruption came after the IMO said Friday that magma was accumulating under the ground in the area "which could end with a new magma intrusion and possibly an eruption." That could happen "with very little warning," it said.

Local media reported that Iceland's famed Blue Lagoon geothermal spa had been evacuated as well as Grindavik.

The roughly 4,000 residents of Grindavik had only been cleared to return to their homes on Feb. 19 after having been evacuated on Nov. 11, 2023, though only around a hundred chose to do so.

On that occasion, hundreds of tremors damaged buildings and opened up huge cracks in roads.

The quakes were followed by a volcanic fissure on Dec. 18 that spared the village.

But a fissure opened right on the town's edge in January, sending lava flowing into the streets and reducing three homes to ashes, followed by a third eruption near the village on Feb. 8.

As of Friday, more than 300 of Grindavik's inhabitants had put in requests to sell their house to the state.

The eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula have also raised fears for the Svartsengi power plant, which supplies electricity and water to around 30,000 people on the Reykjanes peninsula.

The plant was evacuated and has been run remotely since the first eruption in the region, and dykes have been built to protect it.

Iceland is home to 33 active volcano systems, the highest number in Europe. It straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a crack in the ocean floor separating the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.

But until March 2021, the Reykjanes peninsula had not experienced an eruption for eight centuries.

Further eruptions occurred in August 2022 and in July and December 2023, leading volcanologists to say it was probably the start of a new era of seismic activity in the region.    

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