Volcano erupts in Iceland, hundreds flee

Sun Mar 21, 2010 7:51pm EDT
 

Scientists said further volcanic activity could be imminent as three previous eruptions at Eyjafjallajokull had all triggered eruptions at Mt Katla, a powerful volcano to the east of the glacier.

"What we know is that an eruption in Eyjafjallajokull seems to be a trigger for Mt Katla," geophysicist Pall Einarsson said on Icelandic state television.

An eruption at Mt Katla would be a far larger and more serious event, Einarsson said, as lava could melt the ice at the top of the mountain, setting off massive flooding.

Mt Katla, which usually blows every half century, has not erupted since 1918, he added.

NO WARNING

Iceland sits on a volcanic hotspot in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and has relatively frequent eruptions, although most occur in sparsely populated areas and pose little danger to people or property. The last eruption took place in 2004.

Scientists had been monitoring the Eyjafjallajokull glacier, dormant since 1821, for signs of seismic activity but said there had been little warning of an eruption on Saturday.

There have been 21 eruptions in Iceland since 1963, but the only one in recent history to cause any serious damage took place in 1973 in the Westmann islands and caused no casualties.

At a news conference, geophysicist Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson said there was no way to predict how long the Eyjafjallajokull eruption could last.

"It could end tomorrow, it could go on for a year or two, but this is a small eruption," he said.

(Writing by Nick Vinocur; Editing by Janet Lawrence)