At two O'clock in the morning of
the 23rd of January
1973, an eruption started on the eastern part of the island Heimaey
(The Home Island), the largest, and only inhabited one of the Westman
Islands. The volcanic fissure was almost a mile long. Most of the
fishing fleet was in the harbour, which made the evacuation easy and
quick. The fissure grew shorter until only one crater was left active,
the one, which created the "Eldfell" (The Fire Mountain).
The number of dwellings on the island at the beginning of the eruption
400 were buried under lava and ashes and other 400 were
damaged. The lava flow reached the southern harbour wall and
stopped there. The entrance had been 800 metres wide, open
towards the east, and dangerous to navigate during easterly
It was narrowed down to 160
metres and is much better sheltered than before. In May, the eruption
started diminishing and on The 26th of June, no more lava ran from the
crater. On July 3rd, the official end of the eruption was proclaimed.
The total area of the new lava field was 3,2 kmē and about 2,2 kmē ran
into the sea. The total area of the island was 11,3 km before the
eruption, but 13,4 kmē after it came to an end.
In February 1973 an attempt to divert, slow or stop the advance
of the lava flow started by pumping cold seawater on its edge. About
40 pumps were placed on one of the piers and about 1200 l/sec. were
pumped successfully over the edge. The clearing of tephra from the
rest of the town started immediately after the eruption stopped. About
2,2 millions of cubic metres were transported out of town and a part
of it used to widen the airstrips. This work continued during the next
two years and in 1974, a few holes were sunk into the new lava field.
The 80-100°C hot steam was used to heat freshwater from the mainland
for closed circuit house heating. This method of heat transfer lasted
15 years. The tephra, scoria, pumice, slag, and newly created sand-
and pebble beaches solved the lack of construction materials. The new
lava field is very thick and decades will pass before it cools. Only a
foot or two down the temperature reaches 200-300°C and up in the
slopes of the new volcano the temperature was measured 630°C in 1998.
At the northern foot of the volcano, an iron crucifix was erected to
commemorate the end of the eruption and express gratitude for the
sparing of human lives.