May 29, 2008 / 4:51 PM / 12 years ago

Earthquake rocks Iceland damaging buildings

SELFOSS, Iceland (Reuters) - A strong earthquake rocked Iceland on Thursday, damaging roads and buildings in one town and sending frightened residents running into the streets.

Healthworkers care for patients outside a hospital after an earthquake in Selfoss, 50 km (31 miles) southeast of the capital Reykjavik, May 29, 2008. REUTERS/Morgunbladid

Police in Selfoss, 31 miles southeast of the capital Reykjavik, said they had received no reports of injuries and that damage to buildings in the area had been relatively minor.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck at 3:46 p.m. (11:46 a.m. EDT), 6.2 miles beneath the earth’s surface.

In Selfoss, a small southwestern town near the quake’s epicenter, dozens of panicking people poured into the streets.

“I didn’t know what was happening. All of a sudden, I felt the ground moving and saw the shelves shaking and walls in the store shaking,” said Kolbrun Sigurdardottir, a clothing store clerk in the town.

“I ran out into the street, which was filled with people. A pregnant lady next to me was terrified. We’re still shaking with nerves, but I’m glad everybody is okay,” she told Reuters.

Iceland is renowned for its fierce geophysical temper. The island, which sits on a fault line, is dotted with geysers and volcanoes. Earthquakes of magnitudes up to 7.1 have shaken the island in the past.

The quake hit a day before a planned visit to Iceland by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who was with Rice at a conference in Sweden on Thursday, said the visit would go ahead.


Selfoss rescue team worker Soffia Sigurdardottir said all available teams were out helping people, visiting hospitals, schools and other sites. “People are mostly shocked and scared but no one is seriously injured so far,” she said.

At the famous Blue Lagoon hot springs resort, several kilometers from the epicenter, receptionist Kristrun Bragadottir said she had experienced similar tremors before. “I felt it. And it is not good.”

Residents also felt the impact in Europe’s northernmost capital. “I am in Reykjavik ... everything was shaking. The glass in the windows shook and everybody was just really scared,” said economist Audbjorg Olafsdottir.

The Iceland Meterological Office said Thursday’s was the strongest quake to hit the country since two large quakes in 2000, which followed 88 years of relative seismic inactivity.

“This is by far the largest since then,” said Einar Kjartansson, a geophysicist at the office. The main quake was followed by several smaller aftershocks, he said.

Iceland sits on two shifting plates far beneath the earth’s surface, known as the Eurasian plate and the North American plate, which are moving away from each other, not converging, Kjartansson said.

Slideshow (3 Images)

The strongest quakes tend to happen where plates are knuckling up against each other, as they do in California.

Iceland, a North Atlantic island halfway between Europe and North America, has a population of about 300,000.

Some four-fifths of its rocky surface is uninhabited. It was first settled by Vikings from Norway in the ninth century A.D.

Reporting via Stockholm newsroom; additional reporting Sarah Edmonds, Adam Cox and Niklas Pollard; editing by Tim Pearce

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