‘The dogs just slept outside…if they’d been in their houses they would have suffocated’

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A large subsection of Longyearbyen’s population that was most exposed to the storm that resulted in Saturday’s avalanche may be among those who weathered it best.

“The dogs just slept outside,” said Christine Ireland, who owns four dogs at the kennels just outside the city limits. “They just buried themselves in the snow. I think they were quite happy. If they’d been in their houses they would have suffocated.”

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A sled at Greendog Svalbard is nearly completely submerged by this weekend’s storm. Photo courtesy of Green Dog Svalbard.

Green Dog Svalbard, in a message posted Saturday on their Facebook page, noted “we are all well at the kennel” about 10 miles outside town, with the dogs there behaving similarly by simply “pressing themselves together and sleeping….they’re not Greenlanders for nothing.”

Ireland, a student at The University Centre in Svalbard and a volunteer at Bruktikken, was among the numerous people who spent much of Saturday digging out the kennels at the edge of town, with snow more than meter deep above some of the doghouses. She said she got a text message at 7 a.m. telling you to come out to kennels as soon as the weather allowed, but couldn’t get out of her seaside cabin across the street from UNIS until about 10 a.m.

“It was just incredible to see the amount of snow on the road to the dog yards,” she said.

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Christine Ireland faces a formidable obstacle trying to leave The University Centre in Svalbard during Friday night’s snowstorm. Photo courtesy of Christine Ireland.

Ireland said they’d been digging for about an hour when they heard about the avalanche that buried ten homes in the center of town beneath Sukketoppen.

“I asked where it was and I realized my husband was walking to work along there,” she said, adding he’d already reached his workplace when the avalanche struck.

“We gathered some shovels and went back to town,” she said. But at that early stage “people didn’t seem to be in chaos…we weren’t aware of the magnitude of what had happened.”

They returned to the kennels and spent several more hours digging out the doghouses, Ireland said. She then tried to go back to UNIS to do further work on her thesis, “but I couldn’t really work on concentrate.”

“I just decided to get my dogs and wander around town,” she said. “It was horrible to see the huge scar up there.”

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