A volcano erupts north of Grindavik, Iceland on the Reykjanes peninsula. Photo courtesy of Icelandic Met Office/EPA-EFE
Dec. 20 (UPI) — A volcano eruption in Iceland has become a tourist attraction, with a hiker requiring rescue by helicopter and police warning travelers to “think four times” before making the journey up to the volcano.
Since Monday’s eruption, the 11- to 12-mile route to the site near Sýlingafell mountain has become “extremely challenging,” peppered with rough lava, which is extremely difficult to cross, and “considerable gas pollution and uncertainty,” police said.
A cold and exhausted hiker had to be air rescued late Tuesday halfway to the site.
The popular Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in nearby Svartsengi is closed through Dec. 27.
When some 4,000 residents of nearby Grindavík were told in November they would have to leave their homes amid escalating seismic activity, there was some hope they might be able to return before the Christmas holiday. But Monday’s eruption near Sýlingafell mountain, less than two miles from the town, spoiled those plans.
The Icelandic Meteorological Office said about 320 earthquakes have been measured over the magma channels since the eruption. The largest, with a magnitude of 4.1, occurred just before midnight Monday.
Sólný Pálsdóttir, 53, a Grindavík teacher and photographer, told The Guardian the eruption left many unprepared. Pálsdóttir’s home was on a large slant as a result of the earthquakes before the evacuation.
“It came up really quickly and no one was prepared,” she said. “The police were saying [on Monday] maybe we could go home tomorrow [Wednesday]. Nobody was expecting this last night. It surprised all of the scientists.”
Grindavík Mayor Fannar Jónasson apologized to displaced residents.
“Unfortunately, the hope that had ignited in the hearts of many about the possibility of celebrating Christmas at home in Grindavík was extinguished when the eruption began yesterday,” Jónasson told reporters.
The current eruption is the fourth in three years on the Reykjanes peninsula and much more powerful than the previous three. In an interview Wednesday on radio station Rás 2, volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson said the eruption may be short-lived.
“It always reduces the danger more and more, and in my opinion there is almost no chance of an eruption, for example, down in Grindavík or very close to it,” he said.
But, Þorvalður also said it’s likely that more will erupt in the area from Eldvörp to Fagradalsfjall in the coming years.
“I don’t think it’s over, unfortunately. There is just as much chance that we will have a repeat of these events in the coming years.