Volcano Erupts in Iceland, Hundreds Evacuated; Airspace Closed

By Gudjon Helgason | March 22, 2010

Authorities evacuated hundreds of people after a volcano erupted beside a glacier in southern Iceland, the country’s civil protection agency said Sunday.

The eruption occurred around 11:30 p.m. Saturday (19:30 EDT) beside the Eyjafjallajokull glacier, the fifth largest in Iceland. No damage or injuries were immediately reported.

Authorities initially said the eruption was below the glacier. However, scientists conducting an aerial survey in daylight located the eruption and it did not occur below ice, lessening the chances of flooding from a glacier melt.

“This is the best possible place for an eruption, as the area is not covered by ice,” said Tumi Gudumundsson, a geologist at the University of Iceland said in an interview with the national broadcaster, RUV.

Scientists can see lava flows in the half-mile (1-kilometer) long fissure, and authorities are watching for further activity.

Fearing flooding, authorities evacuated some 450 people in the area 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of the capital, Reykjavik, as a precaution but no damage or injuries have been reported, said Vidir Reynisson, the department manager for the Icelandic Civil Protection Department.

A state of emergency has been declared in communities near the 100 square mile (160 kilometers) glacier.

Three Red Cross centers were set up for evacuees in the village of Hella.The Icelandic Civil Aviation Administration has ordered aircraft to stay 120 nautical miles away from the volcano area, essentially closing it off.

Three flights from the U.S. – departing from Seattle; Boston; and Orlando, Florida – were diverted to or grounded in Boston because of the volcano. All domestic flights were also canceled until further notice, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service reported.

A European volcanic island in the North Atlantic, Iceland is largely an arctic desert with mountains, glaciers and volcanoes and agricultural areas in the lowlands close to the coastline.

The last time the volcano erupted was in the 1820’s.

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