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Iceland volcano erupts; sparks concerns of larger eruption at nearby volcano

No immediate reports of injuries or damages from Iceland volcano eruption but scientists worry of larger eruption at nearby Katla volcano.

By Gudjon Helgason, Paisley DoddsAssociated Press / March 21, 2010

In this aerial photo, showing molten lava as it vents from a rupture near the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland, as a volcano erupts early Sunday. Some hundreds of people have been evacuated from a small village in southern Iceland on Sunday after a volcanic eruption which shot ash and molten lava into the air, the first major eruption here in nearly 200 years.

Ragnar Axelsson/AP

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REYKJAVIK, Iceland

A volcano erupted near a glacier in southern Iceland, shooting ash and molten lava into the air and forcing the evacuation Sunday of hundreds of people from a nearby village.

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There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from the volcano but a state of emergency was declared in communities near the Eyjafjallajokull glacier and scientists feared the eruption could trigger a larger and potentially more dangerous eruption at the nearby Katla volcano.

Saturday's eruption, which occurred just before midnight (2000 EDT, 8 p.m.), came weeks after a series of small earthquakes. Television footage showed lava flows along the fissure.

"This was a rather small and peaceful eruption but we are concerned that it could trigger an eruption at the nearby Katla volcano, a vicious volcano that could cause both local and global damage," said Pall Einarsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland's Institute of Earth Science.

Authorities evacuated 450 people in the area 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of the capital, Reykjavik, said Vidir Reynisson of the Icelandic Civil Protection Department. Evacuation centers were set up near the village of Hella.

The most immediate threat was to livestock because of the caustic gases.

"We had to leave all our animals behind," Elin Ragnarsdottir, a 47-year-old farmer, told RUV, Iceland's national broadcaster from one of the evacuation centers. "We got a call and a text message ... and we just went."

Iceland sits on a large volcanic hot spot in the mid-oceanic ridge. Volcanic eruptions are often triggered by seismic activity when the Earth's plates move and when magma from deep underground pushes its way to the surface.

Scientists have been monitoring recent activity using seismometers and global positioning instruments,

"This event has had a long prelude in earthquake activity," Einarsson told The Associated Press. "The volcano has been inflating since the beginning of the year, both rising and swelling. One of the possible scenarios we're looking at is that this small eruption could bring about something bigger."

Authorities initially feared the eruption occurred below the 100-square-mile (160 square-kilometer) glacier and could have triggered floods if the glacial ice melted. Scientists, however, concluded from an aerial survey Sunday that the eruption occurred near the glacier in an area where there was no ice.