“Will we ever be able to return home?”
A large seismic crack has divided the center of Grindavík in two, a town of 3,700 inhabitants located forty kilometers from Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland.
The fissure, produced by a magma intrusion, runs through the municipality from southwest to northeast and has opened just in front of the church, under the sports center and next to the swimming pool. The images received from this town, which was evacuated on Friday of last week, show deep holes in the road, a new gap between the eastern and western neighborhoods and structural damage to some buildings.
This scenario, the worst that could be imagined since a volcano erupted in the region in 2021, has raised a traumatic question for the residents of Grindavík, who wonder if they will be able to return home. The future of this community is, today, an absolute uncertainty, waiting to know at what point a volcanic eruption will begin, which experts say is very likely. But regardless of what happens in the next few days, the Grindavík seismic episode is already the worst natural disaster in Iceland since the Heimaey eruption in 1973.
The future of this community is completely uncertain while waiting to know at what point an eruption will begin.
The last time I entered Grindavík I was there two days before the evacuation. I went to eat at Café Bryggjan, a restaurant renowned for its lobster bisque and fish and chips. There was unease, but until that moment the most dire forecasts pointed to a possible washout that would affect the houses in the north of the urban area, those closest to the Thorbjörn mountain.
Grindavík is a quiet, leisurely town, where leisure time is dedicated to the geothermal pool, walking through the natural environment and going to watch the football and basketball team matches, with the colors yellow and blue as the flag. Forty-eight hours after my last visit, an extraordinary seismic swarm began, with almost constant magnitude 4 earthquakes. It was then that many inhabitants of Grindavík decided to leave of their own free will and, finally, at midnight, the authorities ordered an official evacuation. On Tuesday I was about to re-enter accompanied by the police, but when we were about five kilometers from the crack, the rescue teams gave a new evacuation order due to high levels of sulfur dioxide.
The residents of the fishing municipality live in permanent confusion and do not feel like talking to journalists, because – understandably – they do not know exactly what to say either. The natural disaster is not over, and it could affect the people for months or years, so they cannot even think about rebuilding their lives, because everything is an unknown. Everyone I contact refuses to speak to the press, except for a 13-year-old teenager who – upon learning of the request I make to his parents – tells them, convinced that he wants to talk to me. I drive to Keflavík, where some relatives have hosted them for a few days, and there I am welcomed by Ásgeir Ármannsson, a tall, blonde, blue-eyed boy. I ask him why he has decided to agree to talk to me, and he tells me that he wants people to know what is happening in Grindavík. “On the day of the evacuation I had gone to school and that afternoon I was at church when my father called me and told me to run home, that we were leaving town. At 6:01 p.m. On Friday we were leaving Grindavík on the northern road, but we found cracks in the road and saw sparks from some cars; We thought it was fire. We turned around and drove as fast as we could along the western road,” recalls Ásgeir.
“Five minutes is nothing; “You are packing up your entire life in five minutes,” laments Ármann.
The father, whose name is Ármann Harðarson and who works as an electrician, follows the conversation from a distance and, despite initial reluctance, ends up participating. He looks physically worried, tired, and rubs his face with his hands when his thoughts overtake him. He explains to me that his house is in the red zone, the one with the highest risk, and that, since the day of the evacuation, he has been able to enter his home twice, five minutes each, accompanied by members of rescue teams. “Five minutes is nothing. You are packing your entire life into five minutes. I took clothes, toys for the children, albums, the computers with all the photographs, two paintings, a family portrait... Some of the things I have taken I don't need; “You are there, you have five minutes, it is stressful and you don't have time to think calmly,” the man narrates while he sighs with each sentence.
In the room where we speak, a plasma television shows Grindavík live. The family is packing their bags again because the father's union has offered them a summer home in the capital region where they can live until December 20. Afterwards, we'll see. Most of the time I think I'll go back to Grindavík, but then when I'm in bed I start to wonder if we'll never be able to go home again; It's hard,” Ásgeir reflects, sitting on the sofa in front of the screen. At the moment, geologists say that the eruption is the most likely scenario, but no one knows if it will take place in Grindavík, on the outskirts or even under the sea.
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