Monday, July 10, 2017

The Fire Giant Strikes Again.

                                   January 23rd. 1973. Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.

Wave after wave crashed against the blue-black towering lava cliffs that formed Heimaey, the largest and only inhabited isle of the Vestmannaeyjar volcanic cluster. White frothy sprays shot up into the air and swirled back into eddies of receding waves, the ocean was still in heaving turmoil after a brutal winter storm the day before.
          Silvery slivers of moonlight peeked out among the dark-grey lingering storm clouds,causing eerie shadows on the strangely distorted formations of lava boulders, scattered about from a long-ago eruption of the ancient volcano, Mount Helgafell. The grounds on the top of the cliffs seemed quite calm.
          But, miles and miles deep in the ground hidden from view, a subterranean furnace boiled, crackled and groaned under incredible growing pressure of magma - molten rock -. But the people on the island didn't hear it. The unharnessed force was furiously building up in the fiery chamber, but the islanders didn't know it. Suddenly an uncontrollable pressure split the earth, as if the Icelandic fire giant, Surtur, had slashed the ground with his mighty sword and split the island from north to south. A powerful belching blast spewed forth a red-hot curtain of fire, but the islanders didn't see it.
          The new fissure opened up a few hundred yards from Mount Helgafell, quiet for over five thousand years. By the time the eruption stopped, the new mountain, Eldfell, was almost as tall as the old volcano. It was 725 feet and the old one reached 741 feet. Two volcanoes lived on this small, rocky and remote island only about three miles wide and four and half miles long.
          A radio communications operator may have been the first person to see the fiery display.  He'd stepped out after a late shift at work and saw what at first seemed to be a burning building, but when towering tongues of fire shot up like several gushing geysers and lit up the dark sky, he realized that this was a volcano eruption. He ran back inside to sound the alarm. Because of the previous days storm most of the fishing vessels were still in the cliff-sheltered harbor, so people were able to flee quickly to the Icelandic mainland.
          The molten lava ran the short distance to the ocean, where it cooled and hardened to increase the size of the island by about a half square mile. It flowed relentlessly towards the small town and threatened to close its harbor. If that happened the large supply ships would no longer be able to bring goods to the village
          Besides the police and firemen, several workers stayed on the island to sweep off roofs that were in danger of caving in under the weight of accumulating ash and cinders. Workers from the mainland brought pumps and hoses to pump ocean water on the oozing lava in frantic attempt to slow the flow. This unheard-of-method worked and the lava was stopped from ruining the harbor.
          The eruption ended on the third of July 1973. Over three hundred homes were buried under rock-hardened lava. Several homes were badly damaged. Before the eruption over five thousand people lived on Heimaey. Many moved right back right after the eruption ended and began to enjoy life again on their beloved island. Some folks had a cook-out using fiery lava bombs, and a group of Girl-Scouts baked bread in the hot ground.
          As the people began to rebuild their village they constructed a district-heating system that heats their homes with piped-in hot water heated by the same volcano that had threatened their very lives.
          The islanders will forever be remembered because of the way they used great Viking determination, heroic efforts and novel idea to save their village.

         Sidebar note.
         When a sub-marine volcano erupted in 1963 and formed a new island, the Icelanders named it SURTSEY, after the fire giant SURTUR. The people of Heimaey had a ringside view of the new island growing higher and higher, day by day, since the new island was only about seven miles west of their own island; they didn't know that just ten years later SURTUR would strike again.

          Just found this among old stuff I had written over the years. Just wanted to share a little what it is like to grow up Viking!

         Referral notes from the Surtsey Research Society; The Surtsey Eruption 1963-1967
Noel Grove, National Geographic, July 1973

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