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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Almanac/Vestmannaeyjar Volcano

Air Date: Week of January 17, 2003

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This week, we have facts about the Vestmannaeyjar volcano. Thirty years ago, a tiny Icelandic island erupted with no warning and an amazingly successful rescue operation swung into action.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Residents of a fishing village on the tiny island of Heimaey in Iceland went to bed as usual on the night of January 22, 1973, but they didn’t get much sleep. At 1:55 in the morning the Vestmannaeyjar volcano on the island ended a 5,000 year silence and, without warning, cracked open the earth. The sudden flow of lava created an unbroken wall of fire that ran from one side of the island to the other. Townsfolk scurried to carry out an evacuation plan and, by morning light, most of the 5,300 inhabitants were off the island. A few hundred stayed behind, though, to face the fires.

Four hundred families lost their homes over the five-month course of the eruption, and one death was recorded. But more than half of the town was preserved, including the harbor, a primary fishing center for Iceland. Most folks eventually returned but Heimaey was forever changed by the blast. Leftover hardened lava made the island about two square kilometers bigger than before. Roads now seemed to disappear into rock where the magma took hold.

The Vestmannaeyjar volcano is expected to erupt again one day, but for now at least all is quiet on Heimaey.

And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.

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