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Home* News and Stories → Houses in Lon­gye­ar­by­en evacua­ted: resi­du­al risk of avalan­ches too high des­pi­te local warning sys­tem

Houses in Lon­gye­ar­by­en evacua­ted: resi­du­al risk of avalan­ches too high des­pi­te local warning sys­tem

Soon it will be two years ago that the avalan­che came down from the moun­tain Suk­ker­top­pen that des­troy­ed ele­ven houses and took two lives. The­re will be a memo­ri­al cere­mo­ny in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on the day, 19 Decem­ber.

The avalan­che area in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in Decem­ber 2015. Two peop­le were kil­led and ele­ven houses des­troy­ed. One was moved as much as 80 metres. Pho­to © Sval­bard­pos­ten.

Longyearbyen avalanche

The­re has been – and still is – a lot of tal­king about the avalan­che risk in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on all levels. It seems obvious that the­re have been neglects on various public levels, but it was said offi­cial­ly that the­re is no insti­tu­ti­on or indi­vi­du­al that may legal­ly be held respon­si­ble.

And the­re is, of cour­se, the ques­ti­on of how to deal with the avalan­che risk in future. An offi­cial report about the avalan­che situa­ti­on has deter­mi­ned that a lar­ge num­ber of houses in Lon­gye­ar­by­en is expo­sed to various levels of avalan­che risk. A local warning sys­tem has been estab­lis­hed, which has pro­du­ced mixed results so far; on one occa­si­on, the sys­tem pro­du­ced a fal­se secu­ri­ty state­ment that was spec­ta­cu­lar­ly wrong. Two houses were des­troy­ed on that occa­si­on, and it was a mat­ter of luck that the­re was no loss of human life. Instru­ments to mea­su­re the thic­kness of the snow lay­er have been instal­led on various slo­pes clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The­se instru­ments are sup­po­sed to pro­vi­de real-time data about snow accu­mu­la­ti­on in loca­ti­ons whe­re peop­le had to mea­su­re manu­al­ly in the past, some­thing that is often dif­fi­cult or even impos­si­ble in situa­tions of seve­re wea­ther when an incre­a­sed risk has to be assu­med. But that is obvious­ly exact­ly when you need that kind of data, so the­se new deci­ves are expect to make a signi­fi­cant impro­ve­ment to the avalan­che warning sys­tem.

Avalan­che bar­ri­ers are ano­t­her mea­su­re expec­ted in the future, but they are not the­re yet, almost two years after the big, tra­gic 2015 event. Evacua­ting parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, on a situa­ti­ve or per­ma­nent basis, is also one of the opti­ons which are dis­cus­sed. The finan­cial aspects of all that is yet ano­t­her issue.

It does, howe­ver, not cost the public much to evacua­te cer­tain addres­ses on a pre­ven­ti­ve basis. Evacua­ting parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en has beco­me a stan­dard pro­ce­du­re during win­ters sin­ce late 2015. Yes­ter­day (14 Decem­ber), the Sys­sel­man­nen has issued an order that cer­tain addres­ses have to be left until 22 Decem­ber until fur­ther noti­ce. This mea­su­re is expec­ted to be in for­ce until the snow is gone, which means, the houses will not be avail­ab­le for mon­ths.

Sperrung Longyearbyen 2017 Lawinengefahr

The­se parts of Lon­gye­ar­by­en (mar­ked red) will be evacua­ted from 22 Decem­ber until fur­ther noti­ce. The com­ple­te map is avail­ab­le from the Sys­sel­man­nen.

So far, evacua­tions were made in or befo­re an actu­al risk situa­ti­on, based on snow con­di­ti­ons, wea­ther fore­casts etc. This time, howe­ver, the­re is no such base for the evacua­ti­on, some­thing that beco­mes clear from the time span of 8 days bet­ween the issue of the evacua­ti­on order and the date (22 Dec) when it actual­ly enters for­ce. Sys­sel­man­nen Kjers­tin Askholt says “The ban on traf­fic is based on the risk eva­lua­ti­on for indi­vi­du­als and public safe­ty, becau­se this area is espe­cial­ly expo­sed to avalan­ches. The cur­rent prac­ti­ce with a local avalan­che warning sys­tem and pos­si­ble evacua­tions, based on tech­ni­cal advice from avalan­che experts, does not exclu­de a high resi­du­al risk and remai­ning uncer­tain­ties, so the houses in ques­ti­on can not be used while the­re are no mea­su­res for avalan­che safe­ty in place” (Sys­sel­man­nen, auhtor’s trans­la­ti­on).

Are­as con­cer­ned are addres­ses in way 222 and 226, which are loca­ted direct­ly next to the moun­tain Suk­ker­top­pen, but may be exten­ded to other are­as at any time as deemed necessa­ry by aut­ho­ri­ties.

Evacua­ting a num­ber of houses for a lon­ger peri­od of time based on gene­ral pre­cau­tio­na­ry rea­sons rather than an actu­al risk situa­ti­on appears to be a drastic step, com­pa­red to the impact that this has on the lives of tho­se who have to lea­ve their homes for mon­ths. The­re are tho­se who have, next to their home in the area con­cer­ned, ren­ted a place else­whe­re in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on a per­ma­nent basis, some­thing that obvious­ly invol­ves high cos­ts and this is not a con­tri­bu­ti­on to the alrea­dy dif­fi­cult housing mar­ket in Lon­gye­ar­by­en eit­her. Tho­se who own a place in the area that is affec­ted, are also faced with a sub­stan­ti­al­ly dif­fi­cult situa­ti­on.

Not a glo­rious chap­ter for poli­tics, con­si­de­ring the cur­rent deve­lo­p­ment star­ted with the avalan­ce in Decem­ber 2015 – two years ago.

Source: Sys­sel­man­nen

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last modification: 2017-12-15 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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