Steam clouds and moving earth: Inside Iceland’s eruption risk ‘ghost town’


Grindavik is now a ghost town.

It has all the familiar places – shops, cafes, schools and apartment blocks.

But they are all empty, abandoned in the rush to flee an earthquake swarm over the weekend.

We were taken into the town under police escort, passing through several checkpoints.

Follow live: 800 new earthquakes raise volcanic eruption fears

A fissure stretches across a road in the town of Grindavik. Pic: AP

Residents have been evacuated from Grindavik as earthquakes cause damage to roads

The authorities are jumpy.

The magma is now thought to be just 500m below the surface right on the edge of town and they fear there could be an eruption at any time.

More on Iceland

In the town centre the ground looks like it is being unzipped, with a gash stretching 150m or so.

More than 800 earthquakes have taken place on Wednesday alone

Where it crosses a main road the rip is a couple of metres wide, with one side a metre lower than the other. There are enormous forces at work, splitting megatonnes of rock.

And the earth is still moving, stones shifting and tumbling down into the crack. In places it was too deep to see the bottom.

Clouds of steam rise from the gash. Hot water pipes that once heated homes and businesses are now pulled apart with the shifting ground.

The ground beneath our feet is supposed to be rock solid. We even call it ‘terra firma’. But it’s not in Grindavik, not now. You feel it could swallow you up at any moment.

Read more:
Do we know when the volcano will erupt?
How big could the eruption be?

A line of cars queued on a road heading to the town of Grindavik. Pic: AP

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Roads damaged by rising magma beneath

That sounds like a disaster movie, and the town looks like a Hollywood set.

But a few days ago this was a thriving community of almost 4,000 people.

They have been allowed to dash back to their homes in recent days to collect essential belongings.

Now, that seems to have now stopped, and it’s largely emergency workers left in the town.

There isn’t much more they can do.

Grindavik is at the mercy of the molten rock rising from beneath. And at some point it will be left to its fate.

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