Underground magma flow forces evacuation of Icelandic town after quakes

A map shows the pattern of seismic activity across southern Iceland following a series of small earthquakes that rocked the island nation this week. Photo courtesy of Icelandic Met Office

Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Authorities on Saturday evacuated a town in southwestern Iceland amid concerns that magma has moved under the area in the aftermath of a series of small earthquakes that shook Iceland this week.

Residents of Grindavik, a town of around 2,800 people located on Iceland's Southern Peninsula about 35 miles southwest of the capital Reykavik, was ordered evacuated by civil defense officials at midnight Saturday.

They said it was impossible to predict where and when the magma might intrude onto the surface and that precautions needed to be implemented.

The chief of Icelandic Civil Protection, Vioir Reynisson, said "it's clear that we're dealing with an event that Icelanders haven't experienced since the eruption in Vestmannaeyjar," according to the Icelandic Monitor.

In 1973 the town of Vestmannaeyjar was evacuated after the Eldfell volcano erupted and destroyed structures in the area. Authorities at the time used sea water to help disrupt the flow of magma.

According to the Icelandic Met Office, there were about 1,400 small earthquakes between Thursday and Friday.

Additionally, the Met Office says 800 small earthquakes have occurred since midnight on Friday.

"While magma accumulation continues, ongoing seismic activity can be expected due to the stress release in the area," the Met Office said in a statement.

Emergency response teams were called to Grindavik at about 4 a.m. local time, and according to the Red Cross, 1,700 people have registered for three emergency centers since the evacuation.