Hundreds evacuated after Icelandic volcano erupts, first since 1823

March 21st, 2010 - 2:02 pm ICT by BNO News  

REYKJAVIK (BNO NEWS) — A state of emergency was declared and evacuations were ordered after the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in southern Iceland erupted on early Sunday, the Icelandic Civil Defense said.

The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which is located north of the small village of Skógar and is covered by a large icecap, began close to midnight local time. The Icelandic Civil Defense confirmed the volcano was erupting and national television channels showed live images of a bright light over the area, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

Because the eruption could melt the ice on top of the volcano and cause flooding, evacuations have been ordered for the surrounding area. People in the area of Fljótshlið and the areas to the west of the Markarfljóts should evacuate to Hvolsvöllur and Hella. Farms to the west to Ásólfsskáli should evacuate to Heimaland. The farms of Ásólfsskáli, Skálakot and Moldnúpur should evacuate to Varmahlíð. Þorvaldseyri and all farms to the east of Hrútafell should evacuate to Drangshlið. People east of Skógará should evacuate to Vík.

Three Red Cross mass care centres have been opened in the villages of Hella, Hvolsvöllur and Vík and Red Cross volunteers are ready to receive people. The Red Cross telephone helpline, 1717, has also been opened and is able to provide information about the eruption to members of the public.

The civil defense said a regional state of emergency has been declared and initiated the emergency response plan. The National Emergency coordination centre in Skógarhlið, Reykjavik, has been activated and is operational. Rescue teams have been dispatched to the area.

The country’s main airport, Keflavík International Airport, was closed after the eruption. The national air traffic control center said airspace in a radius of 120 nautical miles had been closed to all traffic, which includes Keflavík International Airport, because of volcanic ash. “We don’t know how high the ash plume is going because its dark,” an aviation official said, adding that several local airports had also been closed.

He said the agency is waiting for more data from experts and expected the restrictions to remain in place until at least daylight. Volcanic ash was seen falling down in the area of Fljótshlið.

The eruption is the first since 1823 and follows weeks of increased seismic activity, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office. It said most of the small earthquakes were located about 4 to 10 kilometers deep.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office said it detected a slight increase of seismic acticity at three seismic stations next to Eyjafjallajökull at about 10.30 p.m. local time on Saturday. Around the same time, it received the first reports that an eruption could be underway.

U.S. FLIGHTS AFFECTED

Three Iceland-bound U.S. flights were affected due to the airspace restrictions. Icelandair flight 688, which departed Orlando Sanford International Airport in Florida around 7.15 p.m. EDT on Saturday was diverted to Boston Logan International Airport as it flew over Canada. It was initially expected to land at Keflavík International Airport at 6.10 a.m. local time on Sunday.

Icelandair flight 680, which departed Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington at 4.37 p.m. PDT on Saturday, was also diverted to Boston Logan International Airport as it flew over Canada. It was initially scheduled to land in Iceland at 6.45 a.m. local time on Sunday. The flight was still en-route to Boston at 12.30 a.m. EDT on Sunday.

Icelandair flight 630 from Boston Logan International Airport was scheduled to depart at 9.39 p.m. EDT on Saturday, but never took off.

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