Eldfell Volcano Vesmannaeyjar,

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ELDFELL
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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 was 1345.

Close to 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 storms.

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 km and about 2,2 km ran into the sea. The total area of the island was 11,3 km before the eruption, but 13,4 km 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 80-100C 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 200-300C and up in the slopes of the new volcano the temperature was measured 630C 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.


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