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Effects of the Heimaey Eruption 1973
Transcript of Effects of the Heimaey Eruption 1973
By Robert Fells
Heimaey is the largest island of the Vestmannaeyjar. The distance of Heimaey from the nearest spot on the "mainland" is about 10 km.
Until mid-January 1973, Heimaey was considered volcanically inactive both by volcanologists and its residents. Thus, the eruption came as a complete surprise.
A swarm of earthquakes began on the evening of 21 January 1973, with 200 events registered during a 14 hour period.
The eruption began a few minutes before 2AM on 23 January from a 1.6 km long, striking fissure that opened on the NE side of the island.
This presentation will look at the social, economical and environmental effects of the eruption.
After the eruption, the islanders used heat from the cooling lava flows to provide hot water and to generate electricity.
They also used some of the extensive tephra, fall-out of airborne volcanic material, to extend the runway at the island's small airport, and as landfill, on which 200 new houses were built.
By mid-1974, about half the pre-eruption population had returned to the island, and by March 1975, about 80% had returned.
With the harbour improved by the new lava breakwater, the fishing industry regained its former vigour and the island today remains the most important fishing centre in the nation, as over a third of Iceland's total fish catch is from this harbour.
Numerous homes were completely buried or set alight by glowing lava bombs. the cost of the rebuild cost both the government and insurance companies millions of dollars.
A surge of lava destroyed a large fish freezing plant and damaged two others as it edged closer to the harbour.
Vestmannaeyjar produced 25% of Iceland’s annual fishing industry so it was of utmost importance to keep the harbour safe from the lava flow.
Short term and long term costs totaled tens of millions of dollars, a very large amount when compared with Iceland's GNP of $500 million.
The location and housing and other services of 5300 people, for example, was equivalent in national impact to finding emergency housing with overnight notice for 5.3 million Americans.
New land was created from the eruption. About 2.5 square kilometers (0.97 sq mi) of new land was added to the island, increasing its pre-eruption area by some 20%.
Efforts to reduce the hazards presented by the accumulation of poisonous gas included the building of a large tephra wall to divert gases away from the town, and the digging of a trench to channel away the CO2. These defenses however, were only partially effective.
Mass evacuation: within 6 hours after the eruption began, nearly all of Heimaey's 5,300 residents had been evacuated safely to the mainland. The evacuation was overseen by the fishing boats in the harbour.
By the end of the eruption 417 houses had been destroyed by lava and tephra and the remainder of the town was covered with millions of tons of tephra. This of course left many homeless.
A submarine eruption cut the cable that supplied power from the mainland leaving them powerless.