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updated: 8/19/2014 12:48 PM

Iceland prepares for volcanic eruption as tremors persist

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By Omar R. Valdimarsson
Bloomberg News

Iceland's Civil Protection Agency has registered hundreds of earthquakes since midnight yesterday at the site of one of its biggest volcanoes as the island braces itself for a possible eruption.

"There is a very strong indication of magma movement east of Bardarbunga caldera," the Reykjavik-based agency said in a statement late yesterday. Around 800 earthquakes have been observed in the area since midnight Aug. 18, with the strongest one measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale, the agency said.

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The Bardarbunga volcano is 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) wide and rises about 1,900 meters above sea level. It last erupted in 1996 and can spew both ash and molten lava. The volcano lies beneath Vatnajokull, Europe's largest glacier. Roads to and from the area have been closed off and Iceland's police commissioner has met with Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson and other government ministers to go over the risks, the agency said.

Ash from Iceland's Grimsvotn volcano forced flight cancellations in Scotland, northern England and Germany in May 2011. An eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in April 2010 caused the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights on concern glasslike particles formed from lava might melt in aircraft engines and clog turbines.

Orange Alert

Iceland's Met Office yesterday raised the alert level at Bardarbunga to "orange," indicating "heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption." The agency continues to note that there are still no visible indications of an eruption. The closest town to the volcano is Husavik in the island's north, with about 2,200 inhabitants, according to the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration.

"The seismic activity around Bardarbunga is still considerable," the Met Office said today in a statement on its website. "It slowed a little around midnight but increased again around 04:00 and has now slowed again a little. The activity therefore comes in waves."

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