Rescue workers were busy on Sunday checking up on residents near Iceland’s ash-spewing volcano and helping farmers herd their dust-covered livestock to safety.
‘We’ve heard that there are animals dying. Horses and also birds,’ Solveig Olafsdottir of the Icelandic Red Cross told AFP near the area that has received the heaviest ash showers since the Eyjafjoell volcano began erupting last Wednesday.
Rescue workers were driving around to every farm in the ash-covered area just south of the volcano, which has been blocked off by police, and helping cram cows, sheep and small, shaggy Iceland ponies into barns and even houses.
Winds shifted slightly to the southeast on Sunday, pushing the thick ash rain, which for two days had plunged the immediate vicinity of the volcano into darkness, further away.
Local farmers who in recent days have had difficulty locating their livestock due to the ash, were therefore rushing to get the animals to safety.
‘You could sense they were happy to come inside,’ farmer Sigurgeir Ingofsson told AFP after herding seven semi-tame horses into his small barn, already crammed with seven cows and 48 sheep, many of them heavily pregnant.
The horses had spent all day Saturday outside in the volcanic ash storm, after Ingofsson himself felt forced to leave the farm.
‘I had to leave. It was a very hard decision, but there was sulphur in the air,’ he said.
‘I didn’t know what to expect when I got back this morning,’ he added. It’s disgusting. I am afraid we may not be able to use the fields all season.’
Experts have cautioned that the ash, which due to a mixture of rain and sleet on Sunday had turned into a thick layer gooish-grey mud, mostly posed a health risk to livestock because it contained high levels of FLUORIDE.
‘Intake of fluoride is known to cause problems in bones and teeth, especially in growing animals.The ash can also … cause problems in (an animal’s) respiratory and digestive systems,’ Halldor Runolfsson of the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority told AFP.
Despite the rush to rescue the ash-caked animals, police in the area said there was little sign of panic.
‘People are remarkably calm,’ a policeman patrolling in a Land Cruiser splattered with wet ash told AFP.
‘They are shocked, but what are you going to do? You play the hand you are dealt,’ said the police officer, who refused to give his name.
Experts said on Sunday that the second eruption at Eyjafjoll in less than a month remained stable, but that they did not expect it to last for very much longer.
‘We don’t know when this will stop … It could continue like this for days, but not for weeks,’ Icelandic geophysicist and civil protection advisory Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson told AFP.
University of Iceland geophysicist Sigrun Hreinsdottir told AFP on Saturday that ‘what we are seeing now is the deflation of the volcano … We expect to soon see a change’ in the eruption intensity.
She warned however that more powerful blasts could be in the works.
The previous eruption, which was the first in the area since 1823 and Iceland’s first since 2004, began on March 21 in the outer flank of the Eyjafjoell volcano and lasted just over three weeks.
It ended just hours before Wednesday’s far more explosive blast occurred, forcing repeated evacuations of local residents due to the threat of flash floods from the melting glacier.
Hreinsdottir said she expected to see more eruptions in the vicinity, warning that the increased pressure could also awaken the fearsome Katla volcano nearby, which is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in Iceland, and which last erupted in 1918.