Iceland's Mount Fagradalsfjall volcano closed due to health hazards from eruption
Authorities closed one of the country's most popular tourist attractions.
LONDON -- Police in Iceland have put up barriers and closed Mount Fagradalsfjall, one of the country's most popular tourist attractions, due to health and safety concerns after the volcano's eruption this week.
Hjördis Guðmundsdottir, of the Icelandic Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, told ABC News that hundreds of police officers have closed off all major paths and parking lots near the volcano to prevent people from visiting. He said police also have search and rescue teams on standby as it is difficult to close off all routes.
The Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) also put out a new warning Saturday after issuing several advisories this week asking people to avoid the area due to the dangerously high levels of volcanic gases, especially sulfur dioxide which can cause inflammation and irritation of the respiratory system when inhaled at high levels.
"Travelers are advised not to enter the area until responders have had a chance to evaluation conditions," IMO said in a statement this week.
The office added Saturday: "No one is risking his/her life to save you – keep that in mind."
Guðmundsdottir said 50 to 60 emergency personnel -- police, park rangers and search and rescue teams -- are at the site currently.
Thousands of tourists had visited Mount Fagradalsfjall in recent months to see the active volcano, which has erupted three times in the last two years.
According to the Icelandic Tourist Board, the number of visitors has fallen dramatically since police started closing off the area off with only 17 people visiting yesterday, compared to 4082 visitors over the entire week.
Even after the latest eruption Monday, the volcano had remained popular with tourists. Milad, a 30-year-old student, went to see Mount Fagradalsfjall before it closed and told ABC News he witnessed the lava eruptions firsthand.
Milad said he and everyone around him were in awe of the natural spectacle. "It's a once in a lifetime experience, and it is not something you can do every day. We went to watch nature's heartbeat and it was amazing," he said.
He said he and his friends had stayed updated on the hazards through text messages issued by the Icelandic government detailing the day-to-day conditions at the site. "There are ambulances posted around if anyone needs help," he added.
The British Foreign Office also issued a travel warning telling its citizens to avoid Mount Fagradalsfjall due to noxious gases.
The Icelandic tourism board has in recent years recognized the potential economic benefits of Mount Fagradalsfjall, and has actively promoted the volcano as a must-see attraction.
The tourism industry is a key component of Iceland's economy. According to government statistics, tourism accounts for about 7.8% of the GDP and is credited with creating thousands of jobs for its citizens. The country has emerged as a top travel destination due to awe-inspiring landscapes and its geothermal sites like Fagradalsfjall.