(CNN) -

Helga Jonsdottir still remembers in vivid detail the day her island home was swallowed by a volcano as she and her family joined others fleeing the molten lava.

"As my boat left the harbor, the fissure opened up, and flames burst into the sky," she recalls.

"The fissure extended into the ocean, and I could see red-hot lava beneath the water."

Jonsdottir was 18 in January 1973 when the Eldfell volcano exploded on Heimaey, a small island 151 kilometers (94 miles) from the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik.

Her childhood home was among 400 buildings engulfed as 200 million tons of ash and lava rained down in the days following the eruption.

Some of these structures have now emerged, perfectly preserved beneath the volcanic debris following an archaeological excavation begun six years ago.

Worlds of fire

The result is a captivating new museum, Eldheimar, meaning "worlds of fire," which opened its doors in May 2014.

At the museum, visitors can revisit 1973, see a snapshot of life on Heimaey and also get insight into the devastation wreaked by the volcano.

On the fateful night, the island's 5,300 residents were alerted to the eruption by the honking of fire engine horns.

When they stepped outside their houses, they saw bright red lava exploding from Eldfell and a wall of fire spurting from a fissure snaking across the island.

Only one person died as a result of the eruption.

The vast majority of the islanders were evacuated that night, not returning until months later.

Many of those living on the eastern side came back to find their houses engulfed by lava, while other properties had been completely flattened or buried under mountains of ash.

A few islanders stayed away, but the majority rebuilt their houses closer to Vestmannaeyjar, the 13-square-kilometer (five square miles) island's only town.

Time stands still

When archaeologists began to excavate the houses nearest to the volcano in 2006, they found that beneath the mountains of ash and frozen slabs of lava, time had stood still.

Prior to the eruption, tables had been laid for breakfast and clothes folded and piled by the fireplace, but everything had been abandoned when the fire engines started sounding their horns.

Archaeologists decided to focus on one particular cottage, which now forms the centerpiece of the Eldheimar museum, located on the outskirts of Vestmannaeyjar.

Inside the museum's walls, petrified waterfalls of ash pour from the cottage's windows, through which lampshades, tablecloths and curtains can be seen.