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Iceland volcano thrill-seekers ignore danger warnings to witness dramatic Reykjanes eruption

Iceland volcano thrill-seekers ignore danger warnings to witness dramatic Reykjanes eruption

Thrill-seekers have thrown caution to the wind to get the chance to witness a volcanic eruption in Iceland first hand.

Icelanders flocked to the Sundhnjúkar crater on Monday evening after a 4km fissure opened up and sent plumes of toxic gas and lava along the ridge of a hill.

The eruption, near the town of Grindavík, comes after weeks of earthquakes and uncertainty as to whether the volcano would erupt or not.

Revellers braved the ferocious heat of Iceland’s volcano as it sent toxic plumes and lava into the night sky (AP)
Revellers braved the ferocious heat of Iceland’s volcano as it sent toxic plumes and lava into the night sky (AP)
Icelanders flocked to the Sundhnjúkar crater on Monday evening after a 4km fissure opened up (via REUTERS)
Icelanders flocked to the Sundhnjúkar crater on Monday evening after a 4km fissure opened up (via REUTERS)

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As Icelanders gathered around the site, the country’s government warned considerable toxic gases were being released from the volcano and urged people to stay away from the ridge.

“Yesterday at 10.20pm, a volcanic eruption began northwest of Grindavík. The fisure is about 4km long in a direction from South West to North East. The southern end of the fisure is about 4km North of Grindavik. Please be advised that this eruption is releasing considerable toxic gases and people are strongly advised against visiting the site of the eruption,” it said.

But tourists and residents watched the eruption in awe. “It’s just something from a movie,” said Robert Donald Forrester III, a tourist from the United States.

Resident Ael Kermarec said the eruption was amazing to see but feared his town could end up under lava, adding there was a bittersweet feeling among his neighbours.

The Icelandic government warned spectators ‘considerable toxic gases’ were being released and urged people to stay away from the ridge (Getty Images)
The Icelandic government warned spectators ‘considerable toxic gases’ were being released and urged people to stay away from the ridge (Getty Images)
A scientist estimated twice as much lava had already spewed than the entire monthlong eruption earlier this year (via REUTERS)
A scientist estimated twice as much lava had already spewed than the entire monthlong eruption earlier this year (via REUTERS)

The Ministry of the Environment was also forced to issue repeated warnings to those getting close to the bubbling volcano.

“Think about someone other than yourself and follow the guidelines of public safety. Please,” a spokesperson said.

Icelandic Police added: “An eruption has begun. We ask people not to be in front of the responders and not to go in the direction of the eruption. It is important that roads and other things are as accessible as possible.”

Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson, a scientist who flew over the two-mile crater site onboard a helicopter, estimated twice as much lava had already spewed than the entire month-long eruption on the peninsula this summer.

Icelandic police urged thrill-seekers to stay away from the 4km ridge which opened up last night (AP)
Icelandic police urged thrill-seekers to stay away from the 4km ridge which opened up last night (AP)
Scientists flew over the eruption in helicopters to observe the 100m high plumes of smoke and lava (AP)
Scientists flew over the eruption in helicopters to observe the 100m high plumes of smoke and lava (AP)

He added that the eruption was expected decrease in intensity but scientists have no idea how long it could last.

“It can be over in a week, or it could take quite a bit longer,” he said.

“The eruption does not present a threat to life. There are no disruptions to flights to and from Iceland and international flight corridors remain open,” the Icelandic government said.

Last month, authorities evacuated the nearly 4,000 inhabitants of the fishing town of Grindavik about 40km southwest of capital city Reykjavik.

But geophysicist Björn Oddson said the eruption was well-located as it erupted at Sundhnúk far enough away from the town.

“This is just over 4km long crack that extends over Vatnaskil towards Grindavík. We hope it does not extend further south. The lava goes primarily to Fagradalsfjall.”

Thrill-seekers watch the gas plumes and lava from a distance in Iceland (EPA)
Thrill-seekers watch the gas plumes and lava from a distance in Iceland (EPA)
The night sky above Iceland is lit up orange by a volcanic eruption after weeks of uncertainty (AFP via Getty Images)
The night sky above Iceland is lit up orange by a volcanic eruption after weeks of uncertainty (AFP via Getty Images)

The mayor of Grindavik also expressed his relief that the volcanic fissure didn’t open up in the middle of the town.

Mayor Fannar Jónasson said: “Considering the situation, this is good news, but of course, an eruption so close to a settlement is very serious.

“It can be said that this is a relief compared to the situation that prevailed during the period when there was a possible risk of magma coming up right under the town.

“We will have to see how the progress will be, but at the moment there is no magma or lava threatening settlements.”

Located between the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates, among the largest on the planet, Iceland is a seismic and volcanic hot spot because the two plates move in opposite directions.