Iceland declares state of emergency ahead of expected volcanic eruption near Reykjavik

An Icelandic town home to some 4,000 people near the capital Reykjavik could be heavily damaged by a volcano expected to erupt within hours or days, experts said on Saturday.

The town of Grindavik on the southwestern coast was evacuated in the early hours of Saturday after magma shifting under the Earth's crust caused hundreds of earthquakes in what was believed to be a precursor to an eruption.

"We are really concerned about all the houses and the infrastructure in the area," Vidir Reynisson, head of Iceland's Civil Protection and Emergency Management told AFP.

The town -- around 40 kilometres (25 miles) southwest of Reykjavik -- is located near the Svartsengi geothermal plant, the main supplier of electricity and water to 30,000 residents on the Reykjanes peninsula, as well as a freshwater reservoir.

Grindavik is also near the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa resort, a popular tourist destination which closed as a precaution earlier this week.

"The magma is now at a very shallow depth, so we're expecting an eruption within a couple of hours at the shortest, but at least within a couple of days," Reynisson said.

The most likely scenario would be a fissure opening in the ground near Grindavik.

"We have a fissure that's about 15 kilometres long, and anywhere on that fissure we can see that an eruption could happen," Reynisson said.

However he did not rule out the possibility of an eruption on the ocean floor, which would likely cause a large ash cloud.


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