Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

‘It’s like a dystopian movie’: Iceland residents describe ‘apocalyptic’ scenes as they flee volcano threat

People living in Grindavik were forced to leave their homes after series of earthquakes and do not know when they can return

Lydia Patrick
Wednesday 22 November 2023 23:00 GMT
Thousands evacuated as fears grow of volcano eruption in Iceland

Residents from a small Icelandic town under threat from a volcanic eruption have described their ‘apocalyptic’ existence as they fear for their future.

Last Friday, thousands of Grindavik residents were ordered to leave as the town was rocked by hundreds of earthquakes. The small fishing town is 34 miles from Reykjavík and is home to the famous tourist attraction the Blue Lagoon.

Many have been unable to return to the ‘danger zone’ to collect their belongings, as earthquakes continue to strike the town.

Andrea Ævarsdóttir’s whole life is in Grindavik and she has no idea if or when she will be able to return (Provided)

Grindavik resident Andrea Ævarsdóttir, 46, told The Independent: “Everything just seems so unreal, I feel like I’m in a dystopian movie. I’m just waiting to wake up from this nightmare.”

The mother was getting ready to go into Reykjavík to celebrate her son Björgvin Hrafnar’s 16th birthday when their house started to shake on Friday.

“Some of them [the earthquakes] were like a big truck had driven past your house, the bigger ones were like the same truck had hit your house,” she said. “Everything was shaking so bad, the floors were going up and down.”

The family planned on staying overnight at her mother’s home, but they were alerted en route that they were going to be evacuated so only had their overnight bags and had left their cats behind.

Ms Ævarsdóttir made the difficult call to return home to get her cats and medication but was stopped at a checkpoint on the main road Grindavikurvegur. Fortunately, the mother was granted special permission to return to collect her tablets and three pets before heading back.

Ms Ævarsdóttir is living with her two sons Björgvin Hrafnar and Þorgeir Úlfar in her mother’s two bedroom apartment (Provided)

Like other Grindavik residents, Ms Ævarsdóttir was allowed to return home on Monday to collect her belongings but had to obey a 10-minute time limit.

She is now living with her 16 and 14-year-old sons in her mother’s cramped one-bedroom apartment.

Describing the surreality and sadness of leaving her home, she said: “I was crying non-stop when we got to Grindavik, we were allowed to drive into town.

“We had ten minutes, you don’t have the mental capacity to think, I was in panic mode, I just grabbed what I could see.

“I grabbed all of the clothes I could think of but I left one of the packed suitcases behind.”

A police officer pulls a barrier to block the road leading to the fishing town of Grindavik, (REUTERS)

The children do not yet have to return to school as they recover from the shock, but it remains unclear where they will go, explained the mother.

The distraught mother works as the director of a local and public school library and explained the families ‘entire existence is in Grindavik’.

Her home of eight and a half years is still standing but some have fallen to the ground due to the strong quakes.

“It was really hard to see the state of some of the houses and streets. My house seemed fine but this area is really unstable.”

The family’s three storey home (Provided)

Now the mother has to decide whether she wants to eventually move back to the town, if it isn’t destroyed by the volcanic eruption.

She says residents have accustomed to living with earthquakes, but living on an active volcano fissure is a different story.

“I love living in Grindavik, it’s a really nice close-knit town but now comes the fear if we get to move back, do we want to move back?” she said. “This area is really unstable. Do we want to experience evacuation again?”

Siggeir Ævarsson, 38, is another Grindavik resident who does not know if he will be able to return to his family home.

Siggeir Ævarsson had just forked out thousands to renovate his kitchen (Provided)

The teacher had planned to meet his brother and sister-in-law but after the earthquakes stuck on Friday his brother-in-law urged them to come sooner.

“I’ve seen a lot Earthquakes but this is something I’ve never felt before.

“The sources were 2km away from our house. Things were falling down from shelves, I was standing in the kitchen I thought, can I even put pans on the stove.”

Alongside his wife and youngest daughter, Þórgunnur Júlía,10, they grabbed their two cats and left.

Siggeir Ævarsson and his wife Soffía Sveinsdóttir are trying to remain positive despite not knowing if they will be able to return home (Provided)

The 38-year-old says he and his wife, Soffía Sveinsdóttir, 39, have been fortunate as his sister-in-law has a spacious house with spare rooms.

Mr Ævarsson was allowed to return on Sunday and was able to fill two cars with their items.

“It was like going into an apocalyptic movie. The town was empty and lifeless. There were cracks everywhere.

“It was very weird to walk into the house, it looked exactly the same the lights were still on.

“Other houses are cracking in two, my house was fine, but a few metres up the road they are ruined.”

Siggeier and Soffía with their children Emilía Snærós, 16 and Þórgunnur Júlía, 10 (Provided)

As a born-and-bred Grindavikian, the father–of-two is trying to remain positive and “not think about lava flowing through his home”.

“I’m trying to think of this as extension of a holiday, I’m watching movies, drinking beer and trying to stay positive and keep my mind from things I have no control over.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in