Iceland volcanic eruption causes travel anxiety and risky photo shoots


A massive volcano erupting near a global travel hub, Iceland’s Keflavik Airport, sparked close surveillance by officials and sparked fascination with people who ventured near the bright orange lava flows despite warnings.

Fagradalsfjall volcano in southwestern Iceland erupted at 1:18 p.m. local time on Wednesday. according to to the Icelandic Meteorological Bureau, which urged people to stay away from the sparsely populated area on the Reykjanes Peninsula — though some still came close to take pictures with their kids and fly drones.

“I just got to the volcano… my mind is all blown up, it’s crazy,” an onlooker told the Associated Press. “The last thing I could have imagined when I woke up this morning would be to look at this… it’s so beautiful.”

Another man who had gathered last year to watch the same volcano erupt said it was “absolutely incredible” and described the lava as an enchanting “dancing fire”.

Fagradalsfjall volcano outside Reykjavik in southwestern Iceland erupted on Aug. 3 after the area suffered strong earthquakes. (Video: The Washington Post)

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Classified as a volcanic fissure, the eruption occurs about 10 miles from Keflavik International Airport and about 20 miles from the country’s capital, Reykjavik. As of Thursday morning, the airport – which has flights from Seattle, London and Frankfurt – remained open and operational.

“Currently there have been no disruptions to flights to and from Iceland and international flight corridors remain open,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

International travelers will remember the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which spewed huge clouds of ash into the atmosphere, grounding air traffic and stranding millions.

“What we know so far is that the eruption does not pose any risk to populated areas or critical infrastructure,” Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said in a statement. “Of course we will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

A volcanic fissure usually does not result in large explosions or significant dispersion of ash into the stratosphere. But people were warned to stay away because of the risk of noxious fumes and hot magma.

“The eruption follows intense seismicity in recent days,” the State Department said. “It is considered relatively small and due to its location there is little danger to populated areas or critical infrastructure”

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The exact location of the eruption, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Bureau, is in Meradalir, about a mile north of Stori-Hrutur mountain.

The area has experienced “strong earthquakes” in recent days, it added, warning of tremors, falling rocks and gas pollution. The same volcano also erupted last year, it said, and lasted about six months.

Volcanoes are a fact of life in Iceland, a country that sits atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge caused by the separation of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. On average, the country experiences a volcanic event about every four years.

However, the same geological activity is also responsible for some of the country’s most dramatic natural features, such as black sand beaches and geothermal lagoons, which attract millions of foreign tourists.

The current volcanic response is being led by the Icelandic Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, in addition to the Meteorological Bureau and the University of Iceland. Scientists are also in the area with Coast Guard helicopters to assess the situation, the government said.

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