April 17, 2010
The news of a volcanic eruption in Iceland and the lingering aftermath has had me thinking of our visit a few years ago to Heimaey, one of the Westman Island group off the southern coast of Iceland — the only one that is inhabited.
We took the ferry out to Heimaey, a trip of about four nautical miles, spent the night in a very nice little hotel, and then wandered all over the island and took a cruise around its outskirts.
The centerpiece of Heimaey is Eldfell, a volcano that erupted in January 1973, an event that continued until the following July. Besides the initial output of volcanic ash — an estimated 1.6 million cubic feet were blown onto the town — there was substantial flow of lava that threatened to close the island’s harbor.
Overnight the whole population of Heimaey was evacuated, largely thanks to the fleet of fishing boats that was in the harbor at that time of year. If the lava had continued to flow unabated, it would have closed the narrow channel into the harbor which would have been disastrous to the fishing industry that supports the island’s economy. However, the islanders prevented that by pumping sea water onto the lava, redirecting the flow of the molten rock and causing much of it to solidify.
There was enormous damage to the town. Also, because of the lava flow, the length of the island grew from about 6 miles to about 8 miles. Ultimately, the residents returned and the town was restored. Video of the 1973 eruption is a THIS LINK.