The story of Heimaey Island in the south of Iceland makes geology class feel like a modern day adventure movie. As our ship sailed toward the narrow opening to its fishing boat harbor, a first look at the land bore witness to the 1973 volcanic eruption that nearly closed the harbor entrance. I’ve never before seen hardened lava looking like wet mud that just dripped and dried quite recently. Later, we learned that men battled the lava flow threatening the harbor with fire hoses in a successful and historically unique effort to cool the lava and shorten the length of its flow, preserving the harbor entrance and the way of life for the fishermen.
The fog that would settle in for the day and cancel our flight-seeing tour was descending on us as well. Nevertheless, this view from our cabin this morning was quite beautiful. As a backup plan, I walked on my own into the village.
The volcano that forced the 2am evacuation of all the island residents in January of 1973 erupted for six months. All residents were safely evacuated to the mainland on fishing boats that happened to be in the harbor due to a recent storm. The people had wait all that time before they could return and find out the status of their homes.
A paragon of resilience, the residents returned to Heimaey to rebuild and resume their quiet, communal lives. I strolled up the street past new homes to see the volcano, and to visit the Museum of Remembrance, where recorded voices of residents describe personal stories of what happened as they realized the volcano was erupting and gathered their families to flee toward the harbor.