Iceland town facing possible Christchurch-like disaster

Residents of a town in Iceland are being forced to evacuate after earthquakes and volcanic activity have split roads and caused many lanes to sink in what one expert is saying could be worse than the Christchurch Earthquakes of 2011.

Hundreds of small earthquakes have rocked the region of Grindavik with footage showing residents’ homes shaking and roads cracking with steam rising through the breaks in the road.

The town of Grindavik is settled close to the Fagradalsfjall volcano, less than 15km from the base.

There are fears an eruption could occur within hours or days.

A state of emergency was declared and police decided to evacuate Grindavik after recent seismic activity in the area moved south toward the town and monitoring indicated that a corridor of magma, or semi-molten rock, now extends under the community, Iceland’s Meteorological Office said.

This photo taken on November 13 shows a crack cutting across the main road in Grindavik,...
This photo taken on November 13 shows a crack cutting across the main road in Grindavik, southwestern Iceland, following the earthquakes. Photo: Getty Images
Associate Professor of Geology in the School of Engineering and Natural Sciences Gregory De Pascale has compared the current and pending situation to what happened in Christchurch where an earthquake killed 185 people and caused destruction of the city.

“I saw something similar to this in the Christchurch earthquakes but this is a bit more dramatic. It’s evolving very rapidly.

“There [in Christchurch] there was a big earthquake that formed instantaneously within a minute or two.

“But here [in Grindavík] I’ve been monitoring this for the last couple of days and we can see the faults essentially getting bigger. They’re growing with time and these holes are opening up horizontally and vertically.

At least two earthquakes exceeded magnitude 5 and seven above 4.5.

The Fagradalsfjall volcano in the Reykjanes peninsula has been quiet for 6300 years until it caused a surge of earthquakes in 2019 and 2021.

An eruption from a separate fissure of Fagradalsfjall took place in August 2022.

De Pascale said the splits in the road appear to both be sinking and rising, saying the landscape looks like a staircase from west to east, causing concern for experts.

Iceland is facing events that its 360,000 residents “have not experienced before, at least not since the eruption in Vestmannaeyjar,” the country’s Civil Protection Agency said on Friday, referencing a 1973 eruption that began without warning and destroyed 400 homes.

Large cracks have appeared in the roads of the Icelandic town of Grindavík. Photo: Mrgunsngear /...
Large cracks have appeared in the roads of the Icelandic town of Grindavík. Photo: Mrgunsngear / Facebook
A 15km-long magma corridor now stretches from just northwest of Grindavik into the Atlantic Ocean, according to the Civil Protection Agency.

Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London, said in a statement that there “is no reason, currently, to think that this eruption will be especially big,” though he noted that “it is notoriously hard to forecast how big an eruption will be.”

“The evacuated town of Grindavik is very close to the position of the new fracture, and its survival is far from assured,” he added. “Everything depends upon where magma eventually reaches the surface, but the situation doesn’t look good for the residents of the town.”