Iceland: volcanic eruption prompts European Red Cross response

Published: 23 April 2010 0:00 CET

European Red Cross Societies mobilized volunteers, staff and other resources to help people affected directly or indirectly by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier volcano. On the front line was the Icelandic Red Cross.

Some 60 volunteers and staff of the Icelandic Red Cross have been working around the clock since the second eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano on 14 April. They are providing food for the farming population living in the vicinity of the glacier, as well as counselling and psychosocial support, in particular for traumatised children. Some 700 people were evacuated from the disaster zone three times in the past month. In one instance, people had to flee their homes in the middle of the night to escape from flash floods.

Some 100 people live in the area most affected by the heavy ash fallout, which threatens their livelihoods. Some 50 to 60 farms were literally swallowed up by an ash cloud for three consecutive days. The psychological state of the population remains very unsettled as many fear that they will no longer be able to farm, or let their animals graze in the area this year.

Working in close coordination with the authorities, the Icelandic Red Cross set up service centres in the affected areas to provide psychosocial support, general information on insurance issues, and health advice for people and livestock alike. A 24-hour emergency information hotline was also activated. Red Cross volunteers are also providing meals twice a day in Heimaland, as most people have not been able to stock up on food.

The Icelandic Red Cross also translated a guide published by the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network into Icelandic, which was swiftly printed and distributed in the affected area to inform inhabitants of southern Iceland on health hazards linked to volcanic ash.

Netherlands Red Cross

At Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, the Netherlands Red Cross set up 1,500 emergency beds on 15 April, where passengers whose flights had been cancelled could get some rest.

Belgian Red Cross

Similar action was taken by Belgian Red Cross volunteers who set up beds in airports for weary passengers and distributed food and drinks. Fabienne Damsin, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Belgian Red Cross, had travelled to Iceland for a meeting only hours before the eruption. In a true spirit of solidarity, she joined the Icelandic Red Cross operation to assist people affected by the volcanic eruption.

British Red Cross

Two British Red Cross psychosocial support teams were sent to Calais and Madrid on 20 April to provide practical help and emotional support to Britons affected by the travel disruption caused by the volcanic ash cloud. They were sent as part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is responsible for providing consular assistance to Britons overseas.

"Our psycho-social teams are there to give help and advice to people trying to make their way home, and to offer them emotional support too,” Martin Annis, head of British Red Cross emergency planning explained. “Sometimes things like not being able to pass messages to family back home or deal with practicalities can be distressing in a situation like this.”

French Red Cross

The French Red Cross activated its operational centre to coordinate support and shelter assistance for passengers blocked in airports. Staff and some 40 volunteers from eight departmental delegations were mobilized to provide psychosocial support and other assistance. Several temporary shelters were set up to house 400 people.

In addition, on the Ile de la Réunion, two emergency shelters were opened with a capacity of 600 beds. At St. Denis airport, a first aid post staffed by 20 French Red Cross volunteers was set up.

Norwegian Red Cross

The Norwegian Red Cross placed all its staff and volunteers on emergency standby following the grounding of planes and helicopters caused by the cloud of volcanic ash. The Red Cross offered to transport injured people who could not be flown to hospital, by road or by boat. “When the helicopters were grounded it was very important to have all our people on high emergency alert. We asked all our rescue teams to be ready to act if the situation demanded it,” says Jahn Petter Berentsen, national leader of the Red Cross Search and Rescue division.