Iceland resident describes relentless earthquakes, moments of panicked evacuation

"The earthquakes were so constant and hard and impossible to be in," a man who evacuated his family from Grindavik, Iceland before the impending volcanic eruption.

GRINDAVIK, Iceland – Residents fled the town of Grindavik, Iceland, as near-constant earthquakes rattled their homes as a forewarning of a potentially much more dangerous volcanic eruption.

Hans Vera just returned home from work in the nearby capital city of Reykjavic Friday evening, ready to start enjoying the weekend.

"But the earthquakes were so constant and hard and impossible to be in, that we decided to drive to town and spend a few hours in town to get rid of all this shaking and rumbling," he told FOX Weather.


"An earthquake that is not so far from your home and is over (Magnitude) 3 will wake you up in the night," he continued. "And on Friday, I experienced (one) almost every minute. We had one that was (M)3.5 up to (M)4.5." 

He didn't get the chance to return. He and his family saw the news in town. What were just a few cracks in the road on his way to town had opened up to nearly two feet wide. Police closed the road and ordered the 3,000-person town to evacuate.

Magma streaming underground and "inflating" parts of the town triggered tens of thousands of quakes since late October and in earnest since November 10. The Icelandic Met Office warned that these events indicated a "significant likelihood of a volcanic eruption in the coming days."

Vera and his family continue to nervously watch news reports from his sister-in-law's home. He has no idea what to expect.


"We stopped planning Friday night. There's no certainty about whether we will be able to get back to our home or not," he said. "It just depends on where the probable eruption is going to happen. If it's coming up in the middle of town, which is a possibility, then there's a great chance that all of Grindavik, all of town, all of the villages is going under."

Just minutes to grab personal belongings

On Sunday, he had a short window when police let him back into his home to collect essentials and pets left behind. He said it was not enough time.

"Yesterday, we got a window of 5 minutes, just one (person) per house to get in and get some stuff out that you really wanted," he said. "That's not possible. You get 5 minutes, you're in panic, you're in chaos."

The shaking is not what the Belgian native has come to expect from his adopted hometown. He fell in love and married his Icelandic tour guide from a summer trip in 1999. The two have been building their lives in Grindavik ever since. Now, Vera said, the future is cloudy.


"This is totally different. We are used to earthquakes once in a while, and then after quite a big one, you get some aftershocks, which is fine. It wakes you up. Maybe it's in the night, but that's it," he said. "But this has been just incredible. You're inside a house that is supposed to be strong and still and a shelter. But it's definitely not the shelter anymore when it starts shaking all over the place." 

Boston transplant Kyana Sue Powers echoed the unprecedented fears. The Reykjavik resident experienced three previous volcanic eruptions on the island nation but hasn't experienced this level of violence.

"We're all here in Iceland just holding our breath, waiting. It's already been a very historic event with how many earthquakes there have been in such a short amount of time," Powers told FOX Weather. "Nothing in the span of civilization has this happened before in Iceland. So we're all just waiting for quite a destructive eruption to happen."


‘Volcanoes nearly all the time’

In the past three years, the Fagrandalsfjall volcanic area has erupted three times after being considered dormant. Powers surmises that this will be the new normal.

"I'm no scientist, but this area the Reykjanes Peninsula, where that's been erupting for the past three years. We've had three volcanoes the last three years, soon to be four; it hasn't erupted in about 800 years, and 800 years ago, it erupted for about 100 to 150 years," she said. "So we're just entering a new volcanic period where I think this is kind of our new normal. Volcanoes nearly all the time." 

The IMO reported that the eruption would most likely be effusive, a gentle outpouring of lava.

"However, the presence of shallow groundwater in the vicinity of the ongoing magmatic accumulation might trigger some short-lived explosions whenever magma will encounter these reservoirs," the IMO statement read.