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Daily Archives: 29. December 2015 − News & Stories


Avalan­che in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: poli­ti­cal after­math

The avalan­che in Lon­gye­ar­by­en has done more than “just” phy­si­cal dama­ge, it has also star­ted dis­cus­sions that are likely to keep peop­le busy for a while. The situa­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en has beco­me more sta­ble now, but evacua­tions are being held until at least Janu­a­ry 01, as the wea­ther situa­ti­on is beco­m­ing unfa­voura­ble again, with stron­ger wind, pre­ci­pi­ta­ti­on and tem­pe­ra­tures around free­zing. It will take time until ever­y­bo­dy can return to nor­mal life, if at all pos­si­ble. And then, the­re are tho­se who will never be able to return to nor­mal life or life at all. Two lost their lives in the snow, a 2 year old girl and a 42 year old man. Two are dead, and life will never be the same for their fami­ly and friends.

Their lives have ended abrupt­ly on Satur­day befo­re Christ­mas, and nobo­dy expec­ted the avalan­che on that very day. But ques­ti­ons are now asked if the avalan­che was real­ly as unex­pec­ted as could be read and heard ever­y­whe­re after the event. Actual­ly, the local avalan­che risk has kept rese­ar­chers busy in recent years and local poli­ti­ci­ans are not unawa­re of this. In his phd, Mar­kus Eckerstor­fer has done work on the avalan­che risk in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. In a recent inter­view in the Nor­we­gi­an news­pa­per VG, Eckerstor­fer points out that the avalan­che risk was descri­bed alrea­dy in a report in 2001. Also more recent­ly, both rese­ar­chers and poli­ti­ci­ans have been working with the avalan­che hazard. The com­mu­ni­ty admi­nis­tra­ti­on (Lokals­ty­re) has poin­ted out in 2012 that parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en are expo­sed to avalan­che risks, not only limi­ted to the pos­si­b­ly wider known hazard of rock­falls espe­cial­ly on slo­pes abo­ve Nyby­en, but also snow avalan­ches. The opti­on to blow up dan­ge­rous cor­ni­ces as a pre­ven­ti­ve mea­su­re is men­tio­ned as well as evacua­ting cer­tain are­as pre­ven­tively. The­re have been snow avalan­ches in recent years that almost reached houses in Nyby­en and the near­by road.

Eckerstor­fer also points out that the wea­ther situa­ti­on that led to the avalan­che, with strong eas­ter­ly winds, had gene­ral­ly been known as a signi­fi­cant con­tri­bu­ting fac­tor to the avalan­che risk. None of the aut­ho­ri­ties which had issued wea­ther warnings befo­re the avalan­che had poin­ted out avalan­che risks.

The bot­tom line is that the ques­ti­on of respon­si­bi­li­ty and future pre­ven­ti­ve mea­su­res will defi­ni­te­ly be dis­cus­sed, being faced with the loss of two lives in their homes and the exis­ting know­ledge of the avalan­che hazard in parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en now hit.

An avalan­che warning sys­tem as has been in use in main­land Nor­way for some time alrea­dy has repeated­ly been deman­ded also for Lon­gye­ar­by­en. While a lot had been said about it and not­hing being done, things have sud­den­ly hap­pen­ed after the avalan­che: the­re is now a preli­mi­na­ry warning sys­tem on varsom.no.

The rele­vant part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en befo­re the avalan­che (image © Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te).

Longyearbyen avalanche

The rele­vant part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en after the avalan­che. Houses can be iden­ti­fied in both images by the num­bers. Buil­dings have been moved up to 80 metres (pho­to © Geir Barstein/Svalbardposten).

Longyearbyen avalanche

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