The new volcano appeared out of nowhere just outside of town in the Westman Islands.
Last weekend we were in the Westman Islands celebrating Inga's uncle's 70th birthday. Her dad and his family are from the Westman Islands. This weekend is also the annual celebration of the end of the eruption that buried half the town of the Westman Islands in 1973. A new volcano erupted just few hundred meters out of town making the island completely uninhabitable during the 6 months of the eruption and destroying about 400 houses in the town of 5.000 inhabitants. Inga's dad's home was one of those destroyed but he himself was abroad studying when it happened. The picture above is taken outside the home of the uncle at the beginning of the eruption. That house does no longer exist.
There was an interview in the local newspaper in the town with Gerdur, a woman who was living closest to the eruption where she describes that night and what was to follow.
The start of the eruption
"As a housewife in a big home there I always had my hands full with the three boys Agnar, Sigurd Óli and Bjarki. That night was no exception but the eruption didn't come without a warning. "That night I was doing laundry when I heard noises in the living room and the hall. Everything was shaking. I looked out and thought it was a car but there was nothing to see. Then another shock came beneath the whole house which was no wonder considering what was about to follow. Our house was only about 4-500 meters away from the place where the ground opened up. Yes, it was incredibly close.
All of a sudden a wall of fire rose into the air just east of our house and while it certainly was a spectacular sight it was terrifying at the same time. We stood as paralysed when our son Sigurdur Oli looks out and asks "Is it New Years Eve again?" My husband Gudni and I stood by the window and saw the Earth opening up. You could say it was a privilige to witness the start of the eruption which was truly aterrific sight but a horrible one at the same time."
Gudni told Gerdur to dress the boys who put their winter jackets on over their pyjamas. I put a coat over my nightgawn and there was nothing to do but to evacuate the house. However Gudni just sat down very calm and stoic and picked up the phone to call the neighbours. No panic there.
"Meanwhile I stood with the two older boys grasping on to me on each side and holding the youngest one in my arms. I start getting stressed and scared and ask him if he isn't coming out with us. - "I'm just calling people to let them know" he replies. Gudni's brother Einar came to the house in his red old Volvo to pick us up. We wen't down to the harbour but Gudni didn't come with us. He was walking door to door to wake everybody up.
Sailing to safety
"We were 13 in the first officers cabin. Me and my friend Frida were there with all our kids and Frida's husband Raggi was handing out plastic bags for people to throw up in. Many islanders returned their last meal in the Westman Islands to the sea on the way to land. The boat was packed with people. On shore buses were waiting for us and alot of people were already on board. Gudni got us on one of the buses heading to the seamans school in Reykjavik [where they were sheltered] but didn't get on board with us. "Where are you heading" I asked him. "I'm going back. There's more people that need rescue." I didn't see him for weeks after that.
As it had been a storm the previous day, the whole fleet was in harbour at the night of the eruption and all of the 5.000 inhabitants could be safely shipped a shore to the mainland.
Gerdur's husband Gudni was for the following weeks trying to rescue valuables from the houses before they caught fire or disappeared under the lava flow. He managed to get into their house and get the fridge and the beds out of the house. He only got one chance to enter the house before it went under 15 meter thick ash already on the third day of the eruption. They never saw the house again - until one day in 2007, 34 years later. The story of that will be in part 2, posted later this week.
The story is retold and translated from an interview that appeared in the local Westman Island paper "Fréttir", July 5th 2012.