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Iceland volcano eruption dashes hopes residents can spend Christmas at home


By Sophie Tanno and Caitlin Danaher, CNN

(CNN) — Hopes that residents in an Icelandic fishing town could celebrate Christmas at home have been dashed after the violent eruption of a nearby volcano on Monday night.

The volcano on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula erupted at around 10 p.m. local time (5 p.m. ET), spewing lava and huge plumes of smoke into the atmosphere from a vent around 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometers) long.

The 4,000 residents of Grindavík, which lies around 3 kilometers south of the volcano and is the only town in the area, were evacuated in anticipation of an eruption last month, amid escalating seismic activity.

The eruption appears to be slowing down, in a positive sign that properties in the coastal town will be spared from severe fallout.

Residents, however, will be unable to spend Christmas in their homes, the town’s mayor Fannar Jónasson said in a statement Tuesday night.

“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 said.

Jónasson has also stressed the crucial need to “address the housing crisis” with “full force,” and help the families who will remain without secure accommodation in the coming weeks and months. The authorities are currently working on various housing solutions, he added.

All roads leading to Grindavík are closed and will remain closed in the coming days, with access restricted to emergency responders and contractors working on protective barriers, Jónasson outlined.

While no infrastructure, roads or pipelines are currently at immediate risk, “if the lava starts flowing westward, Grindavíkurvegur could be in danger,” the mayor said, referring to the main road leading to Grindavík.

Eruption weakens

In the first two hours of Monday’s eruption, hundreds of cubic meters of lava were being released per second.

But its intensity and the level of seismic activity in the area had decreased by early Tuesday, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office. The eruption continued to weaken in terms of seismic activity and lava flow by Tuesday evening.

Highlighting the volatility of the situation, however, the meteorological office warned that “there is an increased likelihood that more vents may open” along the volcano’s original fissure, as well as “further north or south.”

It added that the warning time for new vent openings “could be very short.”

Earthquake damage in the town was evident to a CNN team on the ground on Tuesday. However, it appears as though residents’ homes may be saved from further damage from the jets of lava.

The lava flow is now estimated to be around one-quarter of what it was at the initial eruption, while only a third of the volcanic vent remains active, according to the meteorological office.

Geologists said early on Tuesday that lava appeared to be flowing away from Grindavík, Reuters reported.

In a positive sign for international travel, Iceland’s government said on Tuesday that international flight corridors remain open. It added that fissure eruptions do not usually result in large explosions or significant production of ash dispersed into the stratosphere.

Icelandair released a statement on Tuesday morning, reiterating that the incident had not affected their flight schedule.

Previous volcano eruptions in Iceland have lasted weeks, and sometimes even months. The Fagradalsfjall volcanic system first erupted in March 2021 and continued to emit fresh lava for a total of six months.

CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen and Claudia Otto contributed to this report.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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