Icelandic volcano erupts as fishing town ordered to evacuate again

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A volcano has erupted in southwest Iceland just weeks after another eruption in the area, putting residents of a nearby town under fresh risk.

On Saturday, Iceland’s National Commissioner of Police ordered residents in the fishing town of Grindavík, first evacuated in November, to evacuate again by Monday night after volcanic fissures opened on roads in the area.

Following the eruption, police have raised the alert level, the agency said, adding that an Icelandic Coast Guard helicopter has also been deployed to monitor the situation.

Hours before the eruption, Iceland’s meteorological office had reported an earthquake.

Grindavík, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) southwest of Iceland’s capital city Reykjavík on the Reykjanes peninsula, was previously evacuated following weeks of seismic activity which culminated in a dramatic volcanic eruption that expelled bursts of lava and sent huge plumes of smoke into the sky.

The town is also home to Iceland’s famed Blue Lagoon, which draws tourists to its steaming geothermal water and is one of the country’s most visited attractions.

“It can be assumed that the order will be in effect for the upcoming three weeks,” the country’s Civil Protection Agency said in a statement Saturday, adding that the only exceptions to the order would be for authorities to conduct official business or for residents “for short periods while salvaging valuables.”

The latest evacuation order comes after the Icelandic Meteorological Office reported on Friday that hazards associated with volcanic fissures were deemed higher risk than in its previous assessment.

“Based on the Civil Protection Department’s hazard assessment issued on January 12, it is not considered justifiable to continue to dwell in Grindavík, in light of public safety considerations,” the government agency said.

The amount of magma had reached a level similar to when a previous eruption occurred in December, the agency said. But in the case of the latest eruption, magma could “migrate further south” – as compared to the previous eruption – and possibly reach Grindavík town.

The eruption in December is thought to have been the largest so far, according to authorities

A state of emergency was declared in November.

Iceland’s volcanoes

Iceland is home to 32 active volcanoes and sits on a tectonic plate boundary that continually splits apart, pushing North America and Eurasia away from each other along the line of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

As such, the country is accustomed to volcanic eruptions, though they often occur in the wilderness, away from populated areas.

The Bárðarbunga volcanic system in the center of the country erupted in 2014, producing lava that covered 84 square kilometers (32 square miles) of highland but didn’t damage any communities.

Experts do not expect the latest series of eruptions to cause the same level of chaos as seen in 2010 when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, since it is unlikely to involve glacial ice that led to a huge ash cloud.

About 100,000 flights were canceled, affecting 2 million people, as a result of the ash spewed out by the 2010 eruption, which threatened to stall aircraft engines and cause electrical failure.

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