LONDON– Residents of a fishing village in southwest Iceland left their homes on Saturday after increasing concerns about a possible volcanic eruption prompted civil defense authorities to declare a state of emergency in the area.

Police decided to evacuate Grindavik after recent seismic activity in the area shifted south toward the city and monitoring revealed that a corridor of magma, or semi-molten rock, now extends beneath the community, the Icelandic Meteorological Office said with. The city of 3,400 is located on the Reykjanes Peninsula, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of the capital Reykjavik.

“At this point, it is not possible to determine exactly whether and where magma could reach the surface,” the weather bureau said.

Authorities have also raised their flight warning to orange, indicating an increased risk of a volcanic eruption. Volcanic eruptions pose a serious threat to aviation because they can send highly abrasive ash high into the atmosphere, where it can cause engine failure, damage to flight control systems and reduce visibility.

A major outbreak in Iceland in 2010 caused widespread disruption to air travel between Europe and North America and cost airlines an estimated $3 billion as they canceled more than 100,000 flights.

The evacuation came after the region was rocked by hundreds of small earthquakes every day for more than two weeks, while scientists observed a buildup of magma about five kilometers (3.1 miles) underground.

Concerns about a possible eruption grew in the early hours of Thursday when a magnitude 4.8 earthquake struck the area, forcing the internationally renowned Blue Lagoon geothermal resort to temporarily close.

The seismic activity began in an area north of Grindavik, where there is a network of 2,000-year-old craters, geology professor Pall Einarrson told Iceland’s RUV. The magma corridor is about 10 kilometers long and extensive, he said.

“It is there, under this old series of craters, that the largest earthquakes occurred, but since then it (the magma corridor) has become longer and longer, going under the urban area in Grindavík and moving even further and towards the sea,” he said.

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