Viewing cable 08REYKJAVIK102, ICELAND: GOVERNMENT GETS FLYING COLORS FOR 6.3 EARTHQUAKE
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|08REYKJAVIK102||2008-06-09 18:06||2011-01-13 05:05||UNCLASSIFIED||Embassy Reykjavik|
VZCZCXRO4714 PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG DE RUEHRK #0102 1611835 ZNR UUUUU ZZH P 091835Z JUN 08 FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3671 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE RUEHCAA/GEOLOGICAL SURVEY DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHINGTON DC
UNCLAS REYKJAVIK 000102 SIPDIS DEPT. FOR EUR/NB, S/ES-O/CMS E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: SENV PGOV TPHY ASEC IC SUBJECT: ICELAND: GOVERNMENT GETS FLYING COLORS FOR 6.3 EARTHQUAKE RESPONSE REF: Ops Ctr-EUR/NB-Emb Reykjavik telecon 29 May 08 ¶1. (U) SUMMARY: An earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale occurred in southwest Iceland on May 29. The epicenter was near the town of Selfoss, where light property damage was reported as well as minor injuries. The government response to the earthquake was met with public praise and approval. With previous newspaper headlines being critical of the government, the positive response was a much needed development. End Summary. ¶2. (U) On Thursday May 29, at 15:45 local time, an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale struck southwestern Iceland. The epicenter of the earthquake was a few kilometers north of the town of Selfoss, 50 kilometers east of the capital Reykjavik. The earthquake was felt strongly in Reykjavik and in much of the rest of the country. A series of aftershocks followed, but none of the aftershocks registered above 4.0 on the Richter scale. On Monday, June 2, an aftershock of 4.5 occurred, the largest since May 29. According to press reports, geologists at the Meteorological Institute of Iceland do not expect any more significant earthquakes in the near future. The May 29 earthquake was the largest since a magnitude 6.5 earthquake was registered in 2000. ¶3. (U) No one was killed or seriously injured in the quake, but up to 30 people are reported to have sought medical treatment fo broken bones and scratches. Property damage was widespread, but light. There was some structural damage to residential homes and other buildings, and a handful of old farmhouses were destroyed. Numerous residents reported damage to possessions inside their homes. Local authorities deemed twenty-four houses in the area to be unfit for habitation several days after the earthquake. Some roads in the area were reported to have split open and some bridges were closed to traffic. ¶4. (U) The Government reacted quickly; Prime Minister Geir Haarde said in a speech in the Althingi that same day that the government would do everything possible to help those affected by the earthquake and placed a priority on ensuring the safety of the affected area's residents. Minister of Justice Bjorn Bjarnason, who oversees the police and emergency response services, appeared on television to outline the government's response plan. ¶5. (U) PM Haarde and Foreign Minister Ingibjorg Gisladottir visited the affected areas together on May 30 and met with local officials. The PM announced the establishment of a service center to expedite work on insurance claims and the government will allocate ISK 100 million ($1.3 million) for unforeseen costs state institutions may incur. Observers noted that the civil defense apparatus worked much better this time than the earthquakes in 2000, and credited lessons learned from that experience. The National Police Commissioner was very pleased with how the national TETRA communications system (purchased from Motorola in 2006) worked in the aftermath of the earthquake. The only major fault found with the response plans was the lack of the TETRA system at the Selfoss hospital, which was sorely needed when cell phone reception was cut. In response, PM Haarde announced plans to provide all health institutions with TETRA communications devices. ¶6. (U) Comment: The Icelandic Government's response to the quake is deserving of praise and has been well-received by the public. This is welcome news for Haarde and Gisladottir after the economic travails of the last six months. Some observers wryly noted that the quake, coming on the Althingi's last day of business before summer recess, helpfully pushed the opposition's criticism off the front pages. End comment. van Voorst