22 Mar 2010

Icelandic volcano awakens after 200 years

7:30 am on 22 March 2010

About 600 people evacuated following a volcanic eruption in southern Iceland have been allowed to return home.

All flights have resumed in the Nordic island country, after earlier being diverted or cancelled.

The Eyjafjallajokull glacier, the island's fifth largest, started to spew smoke and lava from several craters just before midnight on Sunday, Reuters reports.

No damage or injuries were reported, but police evacuated people living in the thinly populated area near the eruption site, about 120km east of Reykjavik.

Residents of 14 farms have been told not to go home yet, but the rest of the evacuees have been allowed to return. Police say roads have been re-opened.

Iceland sits on a volcanic hotspot in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and has relatively frequent eruptions, although most occur in sparsely populated areas and pose little danger to people or property. The last eruption took place in 2004.

Scientists had been monitoring the Eyjafjallajokull glacier, dormant since 1821, for signs of seismic activity but said there had been little warning of an eruption on Saturday.

There have been 21 eruptions in Iceland since 1963, but the only one in recent history to cause any serious damage took place in 1973 in the Westmann islands and caused no casualties.