REYKJAVIK – Tourists and hikers were evacuated on Wednesday near a massive rumbling volcano in Iceland as the threat of eruption raised fears of a replay of the air traffic chaos caused when another peak blew four years ago.
Iceland's Civil Protection Authority told public broadcaster RUV that it had finished the evacuation from around the Bardarbunga volcano but that further air patrols would be carried out to ensure no-one remained.
The authority said that the volcano was stable on Wednesday, but still in danger of erupting. The eruption of Iceland's smaller Eyjafjoell volcano in April 2010 caused global travel chaos, stranding more than eight million travellers as volcanic ash spread across Europe.
Scientists believe the Bardarbunga volcano is large enough to disrupt air traffic over northern Europe and the northern Atlantic as well as causing major damage on the island nation from volcanic ash and glacial flooding. Up to 300 people were believed to be have been evacuated in the area around the volcano, located in eastern Iceland under the country's largest glacier Vatnajoekull.
The area is uninhabited, with only trekking cabins and campsites used by tourists and hunters in the summer months. “We of course don't know about all hikers and such, but we are going to look over the area with the aid of the Coast Guard and after that we should be very certain that no-one is in the area,” Vidir Reynisson at the Civil Protection Authority (CPA) told RUV.
On Monday, seismologists recorded an earthquake of 4.5 on the Richter scale, the strongest in the region – one of the most active seismic areas on the planet – since 1996. However an eruption was not believed to be imminent on Wednesday with seismic activity largely stable four days after the first tremors. On Tuesday evening Icelandic authorities warned that there may be a long wait before there is any change.
“There is no change in the seismic activity at the moment and no sign of an eruption,” said that the CPA in a statement, adding that “experience shows that seismic activity can be going on for a long time without an eruption going off”.