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The village of Vestmannaeyjar, in the far northern country of Iceland, is as bright andclean and up-to-date as any American or Canadian suburb. It is located on the island ofHeimaey, just off the mainland. One January night in 1973, however, householders wereshocked from their sleep. In some backyards red-hot liquid was spurting from the ground.Flaming ''skyrockets'' shot up and over the houses. The island's volcano, Helgafell, silentfor seven thousand years, was violently erupting!
Luckily, the island's fishing fleet was in port, and within twenty-four hours almosteveryone was ferried to the mainland. But then the agony of the island began in earnest.As in a nightmare, fountains of burning lava spurted three hundred feet high. Black,baseball-size cinders rained down. An evil-smelling, eye-burning, throat-searing cloud ofsmoke and gas erupted into the air, and a river of lava flowed down the mountain. Theconstant shriek of escaping steam was punctuated by ear-splitting explosions.As time went on, the once pleasant village of Vestmannaeyjar took on a weird aspect. Itsstreet lamps still burning against the long Arctic night, the town lay under a thick blanketof cinders. All that could be seen above the ten-foot black drifts were the tips of streetsigns. Some houses had collapsed under the weight of cinders; others had burst intoflames as the heat ignited their oil storage tanks. Lighting the whole lurid scene, firecontinued to shoot from the mouth of the looming volcano.The eruption continued for six months. Scientists and reporters arrived from around theworld to observe the awesome natural event. But the town did not die that easily. In July,when the eruption ceased, the people of Heimaey Island returned to assess the chances ofrebuilding their homes and lives. They found tons of ash covering the ground. TheIcelanders are a tough people, however, accustomed to the strange and violent nature oftheir Arctic land. They dug out their homes. They even used the cinders to build newroads and airport runways. Now the new homes of Heimaey are warmed from water pipesheated by molten lava.