Red Cross in action as Icelandic volcano causes travel misery

Published: 24 May 2011 18:14 CET

By Solveig Olafsdottir, Icelandic Red Cross and Mark South, British Red Cross

As a volcanic eruption in Iceland once again threatens to cause disruptions to air transport in Europe, the Red Cross is already responding to the needs of local residents and stranded passengers alike.

When Grimsvötn, a sub-glacial volcano in southeast Iceland, erupted on Saturday night volunteers from branches in the southeast Iceland immediatley opened two shelters – one in the nearby town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur and a community centre Hofgardur to the east - for the local community and tourists travelling in the disaster area.

The Icelandic Red Cross 24 hour helpline was also activated to provide general information for the public and assist in locating missing people. 

The Icelandic Red Cross activated its psychosocial team to provide assistance to local residents who have been living in the midst of an ash could for over 72 hours

The Red Cross has provided messages to ensure the well-being of the local community, encouraging inhabitants to take good care of each other and look after neighbours, especially those who do not have family or friends in the area.
Jóhann Thoroddsen, programme coordinator for psychosocial services, says that most important in a situation like this to stay calm and and be patient.
"What matters the most is to stay in close contact with your family and your friends, as that is your best source of support.  It is also important to mind especially for the children.  They need to be able to seek support and security to their parents and other adults whom they trust.  It is also important that they experience empathy solidarity amongst the grown ups in the community”.

Around 1,000 people live in the area where the ash cloud has been most persistent for three days now.  Black ash has completely engulfed the area, and it has been pitch dark during that time although now is the brightest period in Iceland. 

Meanwhile in the UK, where Scottish airspace has been affected by volcanic ash,  400 passengers, including small children and vulnerable older people, found themselves stuck overnight at Edinburgh Airport due to a combination of freak weather conditions and the ash cloud.

A team of 18 emergency response volunteers was called out late in the evening and stayed throughout the night at the airport. They distributed bedding, offered emotional support to distressed passengers and provided first aid cover. Another team of volunteers took over caring for passengers this morning.

David Miller, operations director, said: “The Red Cross responded immediately following the call-out and spent the whole night helping stranded passengers at the airport. For lots of tired and cold families, our volunteers really were a welcome sight and people were very grateful.”

The Icleandic Red Cross is furthermore on high alert in Seydisfjördur, the east of Iceland where ferry Norröna is expected to port today. Due to snow storm, some 600 passengers will be stranded as the roads are closed to the north due to snow, and to the east due to the ash-cloud.  The Icleandic Red Cross may set up a temporary shelter to take care of these tourists until the situation eases.

The Red Cross in Norway and Ireland are also monitoring the situation as it develops.