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Home* News and Stories → Avalanche in Longyearbyen: evacuation lifted

Avalanche in Longyearbyen: evacuation lifted

The weather in Longyearbyen is finally settling with temperatures below zero and little wind, so authorities could now lift the evacuations and general ban on any traffic in areas on the eastern side of the settlement. People are free to return to their homes since Tuesday evening, 2000.

The catastrophic avalanche before Christmas, which destroyed 11 houses and killed two people, was followed by an evacuation of a total of 114 flats. Consequently, about 200 people had to leave their homes, near 10 % of the total population. The exact number is unknown, as not everybody concerned reported to the authorities. Some are also, as is quite common, on Christmas holidays, following the events from warm beaches far away.

At the same time, the avalanche hazard for parts of Longyearbyen is highlighted by authorities. This risk had been known for a long time, but now it has brutally come to everybody’s minds, finally. A preliminary system with actual avalanche risk evaluation has been installed on varsom.no, as has been commonly used in mainland Norway for some time already. Ways to deal with the risk locally will be discussed now. Areas at risk will be mapped and then measures from technical safety means to – potentially – permanent evacuation of some areas will considered. The local community administration (Lokalstyre) is responsible, in cooperation with relevant technical authorities.

The lack of safety measures, a warning system and public awareness, also within the authorities, has received criticism, as the risk had been known for many years. Longyearbyen will see a debate about responsibility.

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

Source: Sysselmannen

last modification: 2016-01-06 · copyright: Rolf Stange