"You find yourself feeling very powerless"

Gunnar Tómasson, CEO of Þorbjörn in Grindavík, said he hopes …

Gunnar Tómasson, CEO of Þorbjörn in Grindavík, said he hopes the residents of Grindavík will eventually return to the town just like the Westman Islanders after the eruption in January 1973. mbl.is/RAX

The volcanic eruption in Grindavík has a huge  impact on the lives of residents and the business life of the town. People’s assets are in jeopardy and there is a great deal of uncertainty about the future. Gunn­ar Tóma­s­son, the man­aging­ director of the fishery Þor­b­jörn hf., doesn’t ­let it bring him down and says­ that he is hopeful that the residents of Grind­avík­­ will be able to return to the town­ eventually.

“Of course, we know, as we experienced this weekend, that the town has suffered a lot of damage and it’s important to check the safety, especially where the cracks are,” he says.

“What’s first and foremost on our minds today is getting heat and electricity back on residential buildings and businesses. If this isn’t possible, the houses need to be made ready for freezing. I know that the civil protection and the town municipality are working to get a group of plumbers to go around town and try to get this thing safe before the freeze arrives, there’s expected to be a harsh freeze in the coming days. Everyone’s trying to save things in the short and long term.”

Hopes that the residents of Grindavík will return home

It is hardly possible to be more of a “Grindvíkingur” than Tómasson, but he’s a local who comes from a family that has lived in town for a long, long time. “I’ve been joking about the fact that I’m the descendant of Halldor “the soldier” who was captured in the Turkish raid in 1627, so I haven’t gone far,” he laughs.

How is it to see the town in this situation?

“It’s just horrible, horrible looking at this and you find yourself feeling very powerless. As a young man, I was in the Westman Islands on a rescue team when the eruption occurred. Then you got to know naturally what people went through and you followed them closely until people started to return back into the islands. You just hope that it will be the same case here in Grindavík that we’ll start to return back into Grindavík. I can see the light.”

There seems no doubt in Tómasson’s mind that at some point in ­time­ t will be possible to return to­ town­. Given that, it­’s only natural to ask him if he has always been an optimist?

“Yes, I think so,” he answers lightly. “I don’t think I’ve ever let other thoughts take over.”

Tómasson with salted cod in November when the town was …

Tómasson with salted cod in November when the town was first evacuated. mbl.is/Eggert Jóhannesson

Land the catch in Hafnarfjörður

As recently as December, a volcanic eruption occurred near Grindavík, and all operations in Þorbjörn’s premises have to be stopped. Tómasson says that he has been able to solve this challenge, thanks in part to other operations being helpful and customers abroad showing understanding.

“We were working here on Friday as it has been for the first days of January. We went home on Friday and we were going to continue this morning, but it didn’t come to fruition, so now the staff are at home,” he says.

Þorbjörn’s ships now land in Hafnarfjörður. “We are distributing the catch,  some goes to the market, but others go to fisheries we’ve made an agreement with, mostly to serve our customers. They make the product and sell it to customers we’ve been in communication with, so we’re trying to keep the supply line steady and safe.”

Tómasson notes that there is no other way to discuss the matter than to continue operations in Grindavík. “We are preparing to do so and hope that the space will be safe again and we can continue.”

Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson GK is one of Þorbjörn's ships .

Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson GK is one of Þorbjörn's ships . Ljósmynd/Björn Halldórsson

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