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Yes, they do, and 44 years ago it destroyed 1/3 of the town. Luckily the people were evacuated.

The Eldfell eruption in 1973

Vestmannaeyjar eruption 1973
Photo: The Atlantic

Early one January morning in 1973, the people of Vestmannaeyjar islands, more specifically in the town on Heimaey Island, woke up to a scary sight. A vast crevice had ripped open in the earth and lava was gushing out. It was just 1 kilometer away from town. Thankfully, the ash was blowing out to sea instead of raining down on the town. People managed to escape down to the harbor. By sheer luck, the entire island’s population managed to get to the mainland of Iceland, because there had been a storm and all the fishing boats were docked at the harbor. The evacuation was very successful, and Icelanders opened their homes to the survivors. A few hundred people stayed behind on the island to help.

Battling the lava flow

The eruption lasted for six months. The island’s primary industry is fishing, and the island has a natural harbor. During the eruption, the lava was approaching the harbor fast and was going to seal it off, stripping the people of their livelihoods. Someone got the crazy idea to spray the lava with sea water to make it harder and pile up instead of flowing freely into the harbor. All available pumps and hoses were brought in, and in the end, the plan worked. The harbor was saved from filling up with lava, and the inhabitants still make a living out of fishing, mostly. Many people did not return to the islands after the eruption since a lot of houses burned down or were buried in ash, and obviously, people were frightened. Waking up with an erupting volcano in their backyard wasn’t something they expected to ever live through.

Vestmannaeyjar islands
Photo: Iceland Monitor

Is it safe to visit Vestmannaeyjar?

Yes, it’s entirely safe, and people still live there in a thriving community. Geology and volcanology have come a long way since 1973, and all earthquake and tremor activity is monitored. In fact, we recommend you visit the island because it has a fantastic birdlife, fun tours and activities!

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