In January 9th 1799 exceptional weather conditions combined with a high spring tide produced the worst flood in historical time for the south and west coast of Iceland. It is called the Básendar flood and takes its name from a small marketing place and a fishing harbour, Básendar in Reykjanes,that had been run there for centuries.
The flooding was caused by a storm surge coupled with extreamly low air pressure. These circumstances magnified the tidal wave. At Básendar the waves broke down all the houses, ruined the harbour and destroyed all the boats and ships. The people narrowly escaped except an old lady that drowned. At the same time destructive floods affected the coastline from the mouth of Þjórsá in the south to Barðaströnd in the west. In Reykjavík 300 m wide strait separated Seltjarnarnes from the mainland so it was like an island in the ocean and in Akranes the farm Breið was swept away, both the houses and the hayfields. 187 ships and boats were ruined along the shore but no accidents occurred at sea. Not the floods and surf alone that caused the damage, the violent storm broke down houses and churches. The landscape at the shore changed dramatically, shore ridges disappeared and new ones were formed, isthmuses and spits were recreated.
It is difficult to estimate the tidal height but some hints can be found in damage reports. In such a report from Básendar the sea is said to have reached 164 fathoms inland of the market place and driftwood was found stranded on a housetop 8 ft above the ground. In Reykjavík reports state that the surge was 10 ft higher than an ordinary spring tide. In Staðarsveit in Snæfellsnes the sea reached everywhere more than 300 fathoms inland and in some places 1500 fathoms. Today the evidence of the flood is unclear, however this is far the most severe reported tidal flood in Iceland.
How to get to Básendar
Básendar can be visited by driving the road south along the shore from Sandgerði to Stafnes. From there is a walkway along the coast. The ruins of the market place can still be seen as they have not been flooded since 1799.
Árni Hjartarson, 2010