Heimaey, the home town of Westman Islands, are today full of live and a growing society
Today, Icelanders and especially surviving population of Heimaey and their descendants, remembered 40 years later, the volcano eruption on Heimaey.
On January 23, 1973 an information was received by police that an eruption had started a short distance above and east of Kirkjubær,” the church farm” at the easternmost end of the town.
The police officers on duty immediately drove to the area, where they found the fissure east of “Kirkjubær” had now opened all the way to the sea to the north and southwards east of mount “Helgafell“, as far as they could see.
This eruption started at 02:00 o’clock and lasted for 155 days. The latest signs of it were noticed in the new crater Eldfell (Fire Mountain) on July 26. 1973. The volcanic fissure on dry land was originally 1½ km (1 mile) long and situated about 300 m (1,000 feet) to the east of the houses in town.
The winds were blowing from the west during the first night and day, which made it both easier and safer to evacuate the population, as the ashes were carried away.
On January 25. and 27. 1973, easterly winds carried the ash plume over the town and many houses were totally buried and others caught fire. Gradually the activity of the fissure was concentrated within a 200 m area, where the crater “The Fire Mountain” was created and reached the height of 220 m.
The only pre-warnings of a pending eruption were two waves of earthquakes and no one connected them with what was to come.
Complete Destruction on Heimaey
During the first days, the northern part of the fissure was spewing lava over the island’s main town and harbor, at a rate of up to one hundred and thirty cubic yards of molten lava per second.
The lava flow threatened to close the entrance of the harbor and on February 6. a powerful pumps started pumping seawater on the lava’s edge. This had never been tried before and it probably saved quite a few houses and the harbor entrance. The maximum output of the pumps reached 2,000 l/sec.
The island’s inhabitants knew they could rebuild their town, but it soon became clear that flowing lava would completely seal off the mouth of the only natural harbor on the island. Without a harbor, the livelihood of this fishing community would be ruined.
What did they do? They called in the fire department.
While water can’t “put out” a volcano, the Icelanders acted on the theory that enough cold ocean water might cool the lava enough to prematurely solidify a wall, or crust, of lava like they had seen, a few years earlier, when “Surtsey” was created by undersea volcano eruption. This wall of solidified lava could be used to change the direction of the rest of the lava’s flow, and direct it away from the harbor.
The fire department began pumping with the town’s pumps and hoses, and within two months there were enough water pumps and pumping ships in place to deliver over two hundred and fifty gallons of water per second to the advancing lava.
It was a dangerous plan, as miles of pipe needed to be laid up the side of the partially solidified lava wall to deliver water higher and higher.
Although half the town was destroyed, the plan to save the harbor was a success. Remarkably, when these firefighters battled a volcano, the firefighters won. Here can you see pictures from Heimaey from the beginning to the end and how the town and harbor was saved..
The majority of the population of Heimaey was evacuated during the first night and day and in the wake of that all kinds of relief work started. The Icelandic and foreign governments and individuals spent and donated billions of Icelandic kronur for that purpose.
The damage was, however, much greater than all that money could reimburse. At the beginning of the eruption about 5,300 people lived on the island and on December 1st 2012 their number was about 4.194.
Watch video – Courtesy BBC: Kate Humble heads to Iceland and meets the scientists monitoring the country’s most dangerous volcanoes. What can we expect in near future? Yes, we know about KATLA. Question is not if it happen, I say when. Are we ready for eruption of Katla?
Below can you see list of recent Volcanic Eruptions in Iceland, year 1902 – 2011 and on picture how the rift zones lies. Heimaey lies on rift #4 Eastern Volcanic Zone, same rift zone where Eyjafjallajökull erupted 2010 and Grímsvötn of Vatnajökull glacier 2011. Between these 2 points lies Katla, which is like a time bomb.