Volcano Erupts in Iceland, Spewing Lava 150 Feet Into the Air

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A volcano in southwestern Iceland erupted on Wednesday for the fifth time since December, cracking the Sundhnjukar mountain ridge open with spectacular force and sending lava spewing 150 feet into the air.

The meteorological office said it received indications of a possible eruption about two hours before it occurred at 1 p.m. local time in Grindavik, prompting the civil defense agency to immediately urge guests at the Blue Lagoon — the geothermal spa that is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations — to evacuate.

“Evacuate, Evacuate!” read a text message sent to the nearly 800 guests staying at the Blue Lagoon and surrounding hotels. Civil defense sirens installed in February rang out as visitors scrambled to leave.

Within minutes of the eruption, drivers traveling the highway to Keflavik Airport posted pictures of the nearly two-mile-long fissure at Sundhnjukar. A large column of smoke was visible from Reykjavik, the capital.

Helga Arnadottir, a spokeswoman, said that this was the fifth evacuation order since the volcano first roared back to life last year. The evacuation went as “smoothly as the ones before,” Ms. Arnadottir added. Hotel guests took about half an hour to evacuate, she said.

Another 300 people had to move from Grindavik, a fishing town that has largely been abandoned since January after lava and earthquakes from previous eruptions destroyed parts of it. The government has offered to buy all residential homes in Grindavik to allow residents to resettle elsewhere. Nearly all property owners in the area have opted to sell.

Iceland’s tourism board urged people not to try to get close to the eruption and was quick to note that the country remained a safe destination. The island nation’s economy relies heavily on tourism; airlines and travel agencies have reported a drop in sales since the eruptions began in December. Keflavik Airport reported no disruptions to flights on Wednesday.

While the eruption occurred with little notice, scientists had predicted another volcanic event would happen after the last eruption three weeks ago.

Magnus Gudmundsson, who was among the first volcanologists to fly over the site, told The New York Times that the fissure at Sundhnjukar appeared to have grown. By Wednesday evening, lava had reached the barriers surrounding Grindavik that had been put in place to redirect the flow away from the town.

“We watched the fissure widen and a heavy stream of lava running south” toward Grindavik, Mr. Gudmundsson said. Parts of the main road were destroyed. The volcano has already produced 2.1 square miles of lava, Mr. Gudmundsson added, “a good amount.”





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