Written by samepenny on 23 Nov, 2000
On January 21, 1973, a swarm of earthquakes hit, over 200 during about 14 hours. By January 23, a volcano errupted which came as a complete surprise to the people of this otherwise peaceful island, 10 km off the mainland of Iceland. The day…Read More
On January 21, 1973, a swarm of earthquakes hit, over 200 during about 14 hours. By January 23, a volcano errupted which came as a complete surprise to the people of this otherwise peaceful island, 10 km off the mainland of Iceland. The day before the erruption a gale raged in the Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Island) region. Fortunately over 70 ships had sought shelter in the harbor of Haimaey. This fact would save most of the people of the town.
As the lava began to flow, the people quickly grabbed what possessions they could, children and pets and ran to the harbor. Reports indicate that all went well in a very orderly manner. Had there not been a horrible storm, most of the ships would have been out fishing and not available to save the people.
As the world watched via newsfilm, the the wind changed, blowing live splatter from the volcano over the town. 100 homes burned. The debris from the new volcano, called tephra, covered homes and buildings causing many to collapse.
One month after it all began, the west rim of the crater immediately above the town collapsed causing lava to flow through the town in the direction of the harbor. Threatening to close the harbor forever. This harbor, which is near the best fishing grounds in Iceland, is extremely important to the economic health of Iceland.
Meetings were held. Plans were made. It was decided to try to save the harbor by using cold sea water piped through hoses onto the flowing lava as it reached the harbor. The amount of effort was extraordinary! This had never been tried any where in the world. International assistance brought heavy pumps and other gear, but the majority of the work was down by Icelanders.
By March the efforts to cool the lava with water weren't working. Several fish factories had been lost as were more houses. A vast seawater pumping system was set up closer to the source of the lava.
The eruption was declared over on July 4. Rebuilding and cleaning of the town began immediately. One person was killed in the eruption--by CO2 gas coming from the volcano. One or two half buried houses have been saved to show visitors what it was like. Amazing!
We left our Icelandic guide; Ari Trausti Gudmundsson, weatherman, mountaineer, photographer, linguist and all around nice guy, behind in Heimaey. He is now the geologist in Iceland in change of geothermal research for the public benefit. You can put his full name into any…Read More
We left our Icelandic guide; Ari Trausti Gudmundsson, weatherman, mountaineer, photographer, linguist and all around nice guy, behind in Heimaey. He is now the geologist in Iceland in change of geothermal research for the public benefit. You can put his full name into any major search engine such as Altavista.com and see his long list of publications and accomplishments. We were just about finished being the first passenger vessil to circumnavigate Iceland since who knows when. He wouldn't be with us for the final few hundred kms.
The Smithsonian provided us with a National Geographic map of Iceland prior to our departure. My hubby pointed out that we would cross the place on the map marked 'roughest seas in the world' at the bottom of Iceland. Well this was it.....and we left our trusty eagle, for Ari means eagle in Icelandic.
Heimaey is an island of such intensity. The people are so strong. You can feel it when you see what they have accomplished in stopping the will of the new volcano Eldfell. (fell is the Icelandic word for mountain). They did all this work knowing all the while that the volcano could wake up again at any time and destroy all.
That's the amazing thing about Iceland. People have lived there for 1000 years with nature fighting them all the time, and they live well.
This isn't a place for the faint hearted!
Heimaey Island is 10 km off shore. Just enough to be totally isolated when the weather is bad. There are flights to Heimaey Island, but they are subject to weather and are often cancelled or delayed. I prefer the ferry or another sort of boat.
So we go out into the big, vast, potentially nasty Atlantic Ocean. A 2 day crossing back to Scotland. Two days before we fetch Kirkwall. Dozens of little pink seasick bags are liberally distributed around the ship. Every 2 feet in the narrow hallways. I'm fine! I spend the long evenings of the Midnight Sun either on deck or in the tiny bar with a woman from Boston who is also very fine. At 23:00 the captain goes off watch, comes down to the bar and buys drinks for the house. Gee, 2 people! The bartender is up because we are still in the bar. It's so handy to be on a small ship. Two Steps and we are in the Library.
As I write this journal the M.V. Explorer is on her way to Antarctica. The first ship to take ordinary passengers there, she is still doing so. I wish her very well and a long life. She treated us very well.