Sunday, January 27, 2013

Commemorating the historic eruption on the Westman Islands

Mary and I were honored by an invitation to speak at the ceremony that commemorated the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the eruption that nearly destroyed Heimaey, in the Westmann Islands. It was a solemn, touching, and very special event. We began at the museum where we heard a few stories about that fateful January 23rd 1973, and subsequent efforts to rebuild. It was followed by a service at the Landakirkja church with the participation of the Bishop of Iceland, then several thousand men, women, and children walked to the harbor carrying torches. The streets lights were turned off to add a dramatic effect when several hundred people lining the mountain of lava lit flares to emulate what the eruption looked like that day.

The procession gathered inside the ferry Herjólfur to hear live music, more stories, and a few speeches. It is difficult to describe how proud we felt being a part of this event and we were especially touched by the expressions of gratitude that islanders had for the extensive support provided by the United States. As I mentioned in my remarks, when Icelanders and Americans worked together to slow down the lava flows, they demonstrated that people were not powerless in the path of a volcano. It was a great example of what the United States and Iceland can accomplish together.