Officials in Iceland are preparing for a possible volcanic eruption in the wake of hundreds of earthquakes that forced a coastal town along the island nation’s southern peninsula to evacuate and prompted a state of emergency. There is a “significant likelihood” that an eruption will happen in the coming days, the Icelandic Meteorological Office warns.
A spike in seismic activity led Icelandic authorities to evacuate the southwestern fishing town of Grindavík, which is about an hour’s drive from Reykjavík, the capital city, on Friday night. The town with a population of just over 3,600 people is known internationally for tourist draws like the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa, and is about 15 miles from Iceland’s only major airport.
Grindavík was evacuated as a precautionary measure, the country’s department of civil protection and emergency management said in a bulletin shared online this week, adding that there were no immediate threats to safety. Several shelters were established farther east for Grindavík residents who left their homes.
Although civil protection and emergency management officials said the evacuation went smoothly, police remained in the Grindavík area Monday for security reasons. The bulletin said the area was closed and considered dangerous, and images showed large cracks in the earth near the town on Saturday.
From midnight Monday through the late afternoon, the Icelandic Meteorological Office said it detected about 900 earthquakes in the region between Grindavík and Sundhnúkur, which is around two miles north-northeast of the coastal town. Although seismic activity was ongoing, officials said in an update shared just before 4:30 p.m. local time that the size and intensity of the earthquakes appeared to be decreasing.
The meteorological office said its hazard assessment for potential volcanic activity remained the same on Monday as it was the previous day, but the region, particularly near Grindavík, was being monitored closely for any sudden changes.
A state of emergency was declared in Iceland over the weekend in response to the earthquake activity.
“Icelandic Civil Protection authorities have declared a state of emergency following increased seismic activity in Reykjanes Peninsula,” Bjarni Benediktsson, the minister for foreign affairs in Iceland, wrote Sunday in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “As a precautionary measure the town of Grindavik (population 3669) was successfully evacuated last night and thankfully everyone is safe.”
Benediktsson wrote later in the social media thread that the “likelihood of a volcanic eruption is deemed considerable.”
“Seismic activity is part of Icelandic life and this is in a contained, localised area of the country. There are no disruptions to flights to and from Iceland and international flight corridors remain open,” he said.
Authorities ramped up an aviation alert to orange, used to indicate an increased risk of volcanic eruption, around the time of the evacuation, the Associated Press reported on Saturday, referencing the massive Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption that caused severe travel disruptions in April 2010.