AVALANCHE UPDATE: All 11 homes buried completely destroyed insurance company says; city leaders propose new ‘neighborhood’ at Elvesletta


All 11 homes buried in the Dec. 19 avalanche are a total loss and, while many furnishings and other items inside may be salvagable, building a new neighborhood in a safer area will likely be preferable to rebuilding the wrecked one, according to city and insurance officials.

Inspections during the past few days by insurance officials reveal the structures hit by a wave of snow up to four meters high are unsalvageable, said Tom Skarstein, a major damage consultant for the Oslo insurance company Gjensidige, in an interview with NRK. He said the company is not yet releasing an estimate of the total monetary damages

“We will now calculate that,” he said. “I does not seem to me that this will be a difficult insurance settlement. We are having a good dialogue with our customers.”

Five of the homes were owned by Store Norske and five by the city of Longyearbyen.

Gjensidige assessors agree with avalanche experts from the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute the damage could have been far worse if the homes had been on traditional foundations instead of pilings that are used due to the permafrost. Although the homes were knocked up to 80 meters from their foundations, the structures themselves stayed more intact they they might if anchored in placed.

Although about 80 residents in damaged homes and those considered at risk were still prohibited from returning to gather belongings, The Governor of Svalbard noted in a statement at its website Monday night a lift on the ban will be considered Tuesday. A community meeting is scheduled at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Kulturhuset where updates about the evacuation order and other details related to the avalanche will be discussed.

The long-term weather forecast is for below-freezing temperatures to drop below minus 10 degrees Celsius by Wednesday, with little or no precipitation, which should improve the stability of the remaining snow, according to those assessing the conditions.

Workers began sealing off the damaged homes from the weather a few days after the avalanche, with safety experts and insurance assessors agreeing entry to many of the residences to gather belongings will eventually be permitted.

But city leaders officials have been stating since shortly after the tragedy it’s unlikely homes will be rebuilt in the area since residents are unlikely to feel safe there – and the concerns are probably legitimate.

Longyearbyen City Manager Lars Ole Saugnes told NRK he wants to build a new “neighborhood” on the flatland between the surrounding mountains known as Elvesletta. Several apartment buildings have already been built there in recent years, and additional projects including two hotels are also in the works.

But it will take time and help to develop the new land plots, Saugnes said.

“If you consider the size and radicalness of what I’m suggesting here, we will need plenty of  cash assistance through the justice ministry to redevelop some of the old areas and possibly build new ones,” he said.

Norwegian Minister of Justice and Public Security Anders Anundsen, whose department has legal oversight of Svalbard and largely determines its funding in the national budget, is scheduled to visit Longyearbyen on Thursday and Friday to meet with local leaders, those participating in rescue efforts, and those suffering losses. He will be accompanied by Queen Sonja, who last visited in early February of 2014.