Birth of a Volcano: 41 Years Later, This Icelandic Town Still Thrives
The people of Heimaey, Iceland, didn’t just survive a volcano eruption — they got it to heat the town for decades. (Photo: Adam Greig/Flickr)
By Miss Cellania
Eldfell is Icelandic for “mountain of fire.” The volcano named Eldfell came into being suddenly on January 23, 1973. It was a sight to see, but dangerous to be around. The people of Heimaey didn’t abandon their island home to the volcano, however. They made it work for them.
The Westman Islands are home to some major eruptions since the 1960s. (Photo: Bruce McAdam/Wikimedia Commons)
Heimaey is a 13.4-square-kilometer island just off the southern coast of Iceland. The name means “home island.” It is the largest and only populated island of the volcanic archipelago named Vestmannaeyjar, or “Westman Islands.” The newest island, Surtsey, is the product of a volcanic eruption in 1963. At the beginning of 1973, Heimaey was home to around 5,300 people, mostly clustered in the town of Vestmannaeyjar near Heimaey Harbor, at the north end of the island.
Seismographs on the Icelandic mainland picked up small tremors underneath Heimaey on January 21 and 22, but they were small and unnoticed by the residents. Then at 1:55 AM on the 23rd, the island opened up. A fissure opened up barely east of town and grew to two kilometers long, cracking the island from coast to coast. Lava spewed upward as far as three kilometers.
(Photo: Svienn Eirikksen, Vestmannaeyjar fire chief, via the U.S. Geological Survey.)