Volcano erupts in Iceland, hundreds evacuated

A volcano erupted near a glacier in
southern Iceland, shooting ash and molten lava into the air and forcing the
evacuation Sunday of hundreds of people from nearby villages.

There were no immediate reports of
injuries or damage from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, but a state of emergency
was declared and scientists feared the eruption could trigger a larger and
potentially more dangerous eruption at the Katla volcano.

Saturday’s eruption, which occurred
just before midnight (2000 EDT, 8 p.m. EDT), came weeks after a series of small
earthquakes. Television footage showed lava flows along the fissure.

“This was a rather small and
peaceful eruption but we are concerned that it could trigger an eruption at the
nearby Katla volcano, a vicious volcano that could cause both local and global
damage,” said Pall Einarsson, a geophysicist at the University of
Iceland’s Institute of Earth Science.

Authorities evacuated 450 people
between the farming village of Hvolsvollur and the fishing village of Vik, some
100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Reykjavik, said Vidir
Reynisson of the Icelandic Civil Protection Department.

Evacuation centers were set up near
the town of Hella. The most immediate threat was to livestock because of the
caustic gases.

“We had to leave all our
animals behind,” Elin Ragnarsdottir, a 47-year-old farmer, told RUV,
Iceland’s national broadcaster from an evacuation center. “We got a call
and a text message … and we just went.”

Iceland sits on a large volcanic
hot spot in the Atlantic’s mid-oceanic ridge. Volcanic eruptions, common
throughout Iceland’s history, are often triggered by seismic activity when the
Earth’s plates move and when magma from deep underground pushes its way to the
surface.

Scientists in Iceland have been
monitoring the recent activity using seismometers and global positioning
instruments. Like earthquakes, however, it is difficult to predict the exact
timing of eruptions.

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