Iceland volcano eruption: President warns of 'daunting' period as lava destroys homes

Gudni Johannesson says country is battling 'tremendous forces of nature' after long-dormant volcanic system awakens near fishing town of Grindavik

Video: Buildings catch fire after Iceland volcano eruption

Video: Buildings catch fire after Iceland volcano eruption
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Iceland faces “a daunting period of upheaval" after homes were destroyed by lava emitted from a long-dormant volcanic system, President Gudni Johannesson said.

Molten lava flows reached the outskirts of Grindavik around noon on Sunday, setting three houses alight, although the town had been evacuated earlier and there was no immediate danger to people.

The volcano, which erupted in south-western Iceland for the second time in less than a month, appeared to be less active early on Monday.

Authorities built barriers of earth and rock in recent weeks to try to prevent lava from reaching the fishing town 40km south-west of the capital Reykjavik.

Mr Johannesson said in a televised address on Sunday night “a daunting period of upheaval has begun on the Reykjanes peninsula” and authorities were battling "tremendous forces of nature".

"We don’t yet know how this eruption will unfold but we must still take those actions that are within our power,” the President said.

“We continue to hope for as good an outcome as possible in the face of these tremendous forces of nature. We will carry on with our responsibilities and we will continue to stand together.”

Volcanic hotspot

It was the second volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula in south-western Iceland in less than one month and the fifth since 2021.

An eruption started in the Svartsengi volcanic system on December 18 after the complete evacuation of Grindavik's 4,000 residents and the closure of the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, a popular tourist spot.

No one is known to have been killed in the eruptions but a workman is missing after reportedly falling into a crack opened by the volcano.

More than 100 Grindavik residents have returned in recent weeks before Saturday's renewed evacuation order, local authorities said.

Lying between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, two of the largest on the planet, Iceland is a seismic and volcanic hotspot. The two plates are moving in opposite directions.

In 2010, ash clouds from eruptions of the Eyafjallajokull volcano in the south of Iceland spread over large parts of Europe, leading to about 100,000 flights being grounded and forcing hundreds of Icelanders from their homes.

Unlike Eyafjallajokull, the Reykjanes systems are not trapped under glaciers, so are not expected to cause similar ash clouds.

Updated: January 15, 2024, 11:26 AM