We are now rapidly approaching the fall solstice. Curiously, tourists are still traveling around Iceland as if it were still summer. This last week, there was a fierce storm in East Iceland that led to tourists being stranded when wind, sand, and blowing rocks (yes!) broke windows and forced them to a halt. The following excerpt is from the Iceland Review website:
“We were approaching Skaftafell when the wind picked up,” Marie Storm, who had been traveling in the region with her boyfriend since Friday, told Fréttablaðið. Squalls reached 30 to 40 meters per second [that’s between 67 and 89 miles per hour].
Storm said they decided to stop the car after the sandstorm blocked visibility completely. They waited in the car for several minutes. “Suddenly a rock flew through the window, which exploded over us.”
Sand blew nonstop into the car and glass was shattered over them, cutting their hands. The couple therefore decided to leave the car and seek shelter on the side of the road. “We couldn’t see anything and sand and rocks rained over us. We couldn’t even open our eyes.”
The couple called the emergency hotline 112, who contacted search and rescue squad Kári in Öræfi, who were driving around the region in an armored car, picking up stranded commuters. They arrived a half an hour later.
Storm described the wait as unbearable. “It was a complete nightmare. We were in shock. We thought we would die.” Their eyes hurt after the ordeal and so they are planning to seek medical attention.
She maintained that they hadn’t seen any signs indicating that the road was closed.
The Icelandic Road Administration’s light sign had read ófært (‘impassable’) in Icelandic. The administration now intends to replace that word with ‘closed’ to catch the attention of foreign tourists.
I was in this area toward the end of June. It is a narrow ribbon of road between the giant Vatnajökull glacier and the black sand beaches facing the Atlantic. Until global warming forced the glacier back several hundred yards in the last eighty years, it was not even possible for there to be a road. The nearness of the glacier and of the Atlantic leads to some truly horrific storms.
Iceland is a stunningly beautiful country which just happens to have some terrible weather during most months of the year. One cannot just assume that, because the weather is fine in your country of origin, the cruel Norse gods will let you off scot-free.
One interesting sidelight: Icelandic auto rentals do not insure for conditions such as those described above. Not only did the tourists wind up fearing for their lives, they will also end up paying through the nose for their poor judgment.