REYKJAVÍK, Iceland – Over the weekend, residents of the Icelandic town of Grindavík evacuated as the country prepared for a massive volcanic eruption.
Major earthquakes have hit the region and caused incredible damage to local infrastructure. The largest of these earthquakes occurred on Friday, November 10th, which created fissures that have completely broken some local roads and left deep furrows in the landscape.
As of this writing, there has been no volcanic eruption, but the Reykjavík Grapevine reports that scientists believe an eruption could happen at any moment. As of this weekend, magma was detected less than 800 meters below Grindavík, a town of about 3700 residents.
Air travel in and out of Iceland remains open, though some major tourist attractions – notably the Blue Lagoon resort – have closed due to the seismic activity. That is likely to change if the eruption actually occurs, however. The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010 disrupted air travel between Europe and North America for several months due to the amount of ash thrown into the atmosphere and due to Iceland’s key role as a waystation for transatlantic travel.
The Wild Hunt spoke to Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, the allsherjargoði of the Icelandic Heathen organization Ásatrúarfélagið, about the situation in Grindavík earlier this week.
“Grindavík is a place that I am particular to,” said Hilmar. “We have many members [of Ásatrúarfélagið] there, and I have even been asked to perform a cleansing ceremony on their football field after people thought that an earlier ‘blessing’ had turned into a curse.
“I have friends who had to leave at a minute’s notice,” he said of the current situation in Grindavík. “One of them took her cats but forgot clothes, so there is little time to think.”
Several members of Ásatrúarfélagið are involved in the Björgunarsveitir, the national rescue squads, and are working to assist people displaced by the disaster. “An event like this touches each and everyone here!” said Hilmar.
Grindavík is situated on the Reykjanes peninsula in the southwest corner of Iceland. There have been over 800 earthquakes in the area, which the Independent reports is likely to cause the Fagradalsfjall volcano to erupt. If it does, it could completely wipe out the town.
“Everything just seems so unreal, I feel like I’m in a dystopian movie,” Grindavík resident Andrea Ævarsdóttir told the Independent. “I’m just waiting to wake up from this nightmare.”
Iceland is taking many steps to try to minimize the damage beforehand, including sending in the country’s largest bulldozer to help build trenches. But there are many questions about how livable the area will be once the current situation has passed – some residents question whether they can build a life in such an unstable landscape.
The first Icelanders to settle in Grindavík also recognized the difficulties of living in the area and had their own understanding of how to live in peace with the land.
“The landvættir are particularly strong in this area,” said Hilmar, referring to the traditional belief in land spirits that even many non-Heathen Icelanders share. He shared a legend of Björn, one of the original settlers of the area according to the medieval Landnámabók, who made a pact with a “rock-dweller” who then sent him a virile buck to increase his goat herds. According to the text, people with second sight could see landvættir following Björn and his brothers as they traveled from Grindavík to the Þing.
For now, everyone involved is still waiting to see when Fagradalsfjall erupts, what the scale of the damage is afterward, and whether or not life will be able to return to normal in Grindavík in the future.
“I hope for the best,” said Hilmar.