The 50th anniversary of the eruption in Vestmannaeyjar
It was 50 years ago, on January 23, 1973, when an eruption began in Heimaey, the largest and only inhabited island in Vestmannaeyjar. This is the first and only eruption to occur in a settlement in Iceland, since the country was settled. Fortunately none died, but 50 years ago there were 5,300 people living in Heimaey, and there have never been a larger number of people inhabiting Heimaet, either before or since. Today, around 4,400 people live in Heimaey. The eruption lasted for over half a year, ending on July 3. The eruption started at a 1600 meter long fissure just east of the town. For the first few days, the eruption was a typical fissured eruption. The cracks were 1600 meters long and there were 30-40 craters. Lava plumes were seen reaching heights of 600 meters and balls of lava flew at least 2500 meters into the air. On the very first night of the eruption, a great deal of planning began on how the migration should be carried out. Over 5,000 people had to be brought up to the mainland. The weather was good, and most of the boats in one of the largest harbours in Iceland were at the pier, so it was a easy to get everyone to safety.
Today, 50 years later, Vestmannaeyjar is a vibrant fishing industry- and tourist town, which is worth visiting. To see and learn about the eruption there is a museum; Eldheimar, where the eruption, the history of eruptions, is well documented.
Text: Páll Stefánsson