Earthquake in Iceland: Red Cross supports traumatized populations

Publié: 30 mai 2008 0:00 CET

Sólveig Ólafsdóttir, Icelandic Red Cross

Icelandic Red Cross teams swung into action immediately after a strong earthquake (measuring up to 6.3 - 6.7 on the Richter scale) shook the south-western tip of Iceland on 29 May. There were no casualties and some 30 people were treated for minor injuries.

More than 100 volunteers from the affected area and from the capital – Reykjavík, responded by opening and operating seven emergency shelters in the major towns in the south of Iceland. People who had fled their homes were housed there and provided with food, water and blankets.

There was some infrastructure damage to housing, roads and bridges but it is mainly people’s personal belongings and furnishings that suffered the most damage.

The population was told to stay outside their homes until late in the evening, because of the fear of strong aftershocks. Many left the area to stay with friends and family in Reykjavík.

A Red Cross team specialized in psychosocial support also travelled to the most affected towns to provide assistance. They will continue their work over the coming days as people have been seriously shocked by the quake.

"People are really confused and traumatized, especially the children and youngsters. Many parents expressed their concern over how they could help their children overcome their fear," says Johann Thoroddsen, team leader of the Icelandic Red Cross psychological support team. "At the same time people are endlessly grateful for the fact that there were no major injuries and no casualties. We hear lots of stories of narrow escapes and magical incidents."

Jóhann pointed out that many people are also suffering from accumulated stress as part of the population was also hit by two strong earthquakes in June 2000, both measuring over 6 on the Richter scale. "People are also recalling what happened then," he says.

Some 20 people stayed over night in two emergency shelters, and more were housed by the Red Cross in private homes in Reykjavík. The Icelandic Red Cross will continue their assistance throughout the day, operating 2 shelters in Hveragerði (a town of 2.000 inhabitants) and Selfoss (population: 8.000 inhabitants) providing people with clean water and food in the shelters. The psychosocial team is responding to requests in the area.

The Red Cross has already started planning for longer term assistance such as temporary housing for those who cannot return to their homes.