Iceland 1973

International Operation Name: N/A

International Operation Dates:  N/A

Mandating Organization: Government of Canada

Region Name:  Europe

Location:  Iceland

Canadian Operation Name: (Iceland 1973)

Canadian Operation Dates: 1973/06/11 – 1973/08/30

Mission Mandate:

To deliver pre-fabricated homes to Iceland

Mission Notes:

Iceland sits astride the mid-Atlantic rift, where the tectonic plates under the Atlantic Ocean are slowly separating.  The island itself is completely volcanic in origin. In the early hours of 23 January 1973, a volcanic fissure opened about 1000 meters from the town of Vestmannaeyar on the island of Heimaey off Iceland’s south coast.  Within hours, the town’s 5,300 inhabitants were evacuated to the mainland.

The fissure soon became concentrated into a new volcano which was named “Eldfell” or “fire mountain”.  The initial eruption produced mainly tephra (volcanic ash), which soon buried many houses near the volcano.  By the end of February, the 200 meter high cone was producing a slow-moving lava flow, parts of which threatened the town.  Volunteers reduced the damage from tephra and lava flow by clearing roofs and by spraying water on the advancing lava flow. 

By the end of the eruption in late July 1973, the size of the island of Heimaey had increased by 20 percent.  Some 300 houses had been covered by lava or gutted by fire, and another 60 buried by tephra.  The lava flows that had threatened to block the harbour became a benefit as they provided improved protection from the North Atlantic.  By March 1975, about 4,300 people had returned and a large portion of the houses buried in tephra had been excavated; however, at least 450 new houses would be required.

In Canada, the Government of Manitoba donated pre-fabricated houses for the people of Vestmannaeyar.  These homes were built in Gimli, a town that was settled by Icelandic people beginning in 1875.  Over the period of 11 June to 30 August, 435 Squadron Hercules conducted 12 airlifts of the pre-fab homes, offloading them in Keflavik.

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