Iceland declared a state of emergency on Friday after a series of powerful earthquakes rocked the country’s southwestern Reykjanes peninsula, in what could be a precursor to a volcanic eruption.
“The National police chief … declares a state of emergency for civil defence due to the intense earthquake (activity) at Sundhnjukagigar, north of Grindavik,” the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management said in a statement.
“Earthquakes can become larger than those that have occurred and this series of events could lead to an eruption,” the administration warned.
The Icelandic Met Office (IMO) said an eruption could take place “in several days”.
The village of Grindavik, home to around 4,000 people, is located some three kilometres (1.86 miles) southwest of the area where Friday’s earthquake swarm was registered.
It has evacuation plans in place in case of an eruption.
Around 1730 GMT, two strong earthquakes were felt as far away as the capital Reykjavik some 40 kilometres away, and along much of the country’s southern coast, rattling windows and household objects.
According to preliminary IMO figures, the biggest tremor had a magnitude of 5.2, north of Grindavik.
Police closed a road running north-south to Grindavik on Friday after it was damaged by the tremors.
Some 24,000 tremors have been registered on the peninsula since late October, according to the IMO, with “a dense swarm” of nearly 800 quakes registered between midnight and 1400 GMT Friday.
The IMO noted an accumulation of magma underground at a depth of about five kilometres (3.1 miles). Should it start moving towards the surface it could lead to a volcanic eruption.
“The most likely scenario is that it will take several days rather than hours for magma to reach the surface,” it said.
“If a fissure were to appear where the seismic activity is at its highest now, lava would flow to the southeast and to the west, but not towards Grindavik.”