Julian O’Neil (32) moved from Antwerp to Reykjavik nine years ago. His job consists of guiding tourists safely to volcanic eruptions, but he also stays far away from the Fagradalsfjall. “I have never experienced this before,” says the Antwerp resident. “On Friday the windows of our apartment shook due to the shocks, while we are fifty kilometers from Grindavik.”
Julian organizes adventurous expeditions in Iceland with his company ArcticExped. Glacier hiking, diving or viewing volcanic eruptions up close: Julian is not a place for the faint of heart. “I have visited a volcanic eruption 43 times in the last three years. The Icelandic government facilitates such tours very well: signs are put up and light paths are created. If you follow the rules, it is completely safe. But everyone feels that this time it is different. It’s much, much bigger. If people are in danger of losing their homes, you don’t play disaster tourist.”
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On Friday, Julian was woken up by tremors in Reykjavik. They happen more often, but not as loudly. “The windows of our apartment were shaking enormously, even though we are fifty kilometers away from Grindavik. It was the kind of shock you can’t sleep through. I haven’t experienced that yet. It continued all weekend.” In Reykjavik there was no material damage from the quakes, in Grindavik roads were torn open and houses were damaged.
Foreigners also heard the news about the impending eruption. “Emails were received last weekend from customers who were scared or wanted more information,” says the Antwerp guide. “For the time being, the airport is open as usual. Our tours are also all in different places in Iceland, not in the small corner where the eruption would take place. As long as it is safe according to the government, we will continue.”
Despite the ongoing threat in Grindavik, life continues as usual in the rest of Iceland. But the concern and compassion is great. “Icelanders are a very supportive people,” says Julian. “The Red Cross has made 1,500 shelter places available to the evacuees, but they were hardly needed. People immediately open their homes. Fundraisers are being organized everywhere. My gym even offers free membership for people from Grindavik.”
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