Today, Reykjavík residents awoke to sun and blue skies. It’s still chilly—around 6ºC (42.8ºF), but a nice change after the bad weather of the last few days. The storm which raged across parts of Iceland left some tourists stranded with their car windows shattered by rocks.
Around 70 people spent Sunday night at a makeshift emergency center in Öræfi, under Vatnajökull glacier in South Iceland.
The windows of their cars were shattered by rocks hurled by the raging storm, leaving them exposed to the elements. Luckily, search and rescue teams were there to pick them up. In Mýrdalur, further to the west, gale force winds also wreaked havoc.
One of the couples who got caught in a sandstorm have spoken about how they feared for their lives after the storm blocked visibility and their vehicle’s windows were shattered leaving them exposed to the storm’s onslaught.
Around ten rental cars were significantly damaged in the storm. If you’ve ever wondered what a sandstorm does to a car’s paint job, take a look at the photo on the cover of yesterday’s Fréttablaðið. The car looks a mess after being ‘sandblasted.’
The sad thing is that the tourists who rented these cars are liable for the damage. As most people can probably attest to, insurance companies make a business of finding ways out of claims.
Car rental insurers here generally don’t cover against damage caused by ashfall or bad weather, including sandstorms, or gravel, driving off-road or across rivers.
They also usually don’t cover you against damage to your front windshield and headlights or to the car’s tires or underbody but offer additional insurance for protection against damage from gravel from another car.
Essentially, a lot of the things which could go wrong during a trip in Iceland are not covered.
My travel companion and I rented a car once for a trip along the south coast. The rental company warned us to be careful of strong winds as the insurance didn’t cover damage to doors flung open by the wind.
As anyone who’s been to Vík will know, it can get pretty windy there. That particular day, it was too windy to leave the car and we were constantly worried about sand and gravel blowing around by the wind.
Car rental companies really should inform tourists of weather warnings and of the importance of following the weather forecasts. But, tourists too must take it upon themselves to stay up to date and to take weather warnings seriously.
Some visitors have made a last-minute decision to make a stopover in Iceland on their way between Europe and the United States (flights stopping in Iceland tend to be among the cheapest) and perhaps haven’t given their time in Iceland much though.
While I’m certainly not suggesting that those who were recently caught out were careless, I’ve met too many visitors in Iceland who don’t take seriously advice about the weather and the need to do your research and take basic precautions.
Like the group of hikers I met during the summer who boasted that they were experienced and laughed at the idea of researching the trail, considering to take a GPS, but ended up getting lost.
Or the photographer who thought the idea of taking a warm hat and gloves with him on a summer’s night was ridiculous, refusing to believe that the weather could change so quickly but came back freezing.
Or those who think they can decide for themselves whether or not it is safe to drive well above the speed limit, without knowing the road or having never driven on ice or snow.
The Icelandic Road Administration needs to do more too. The French couple say they didn’t see any signs indicating that the road was closed.
The administration’s light sign had read ófært (‘impassable’) in Icelandic. Following the storm, however, they say they will replace it with the word ‘closed’ (both languages would be better, though, given that not all Icelanders speak English or are used to seeing signs in a language other than Icelandic).
Please check out the following sites before setting out on your trip in Iceland and monitor the road and weather conditions closely:
The Icelandic Met Office
The Icelandic Road Administration
Zoë Robert – firstname.lastname@example.org