AVALANCHE UPDATE: Evacutation restriction lifted, monitoring to continue in case of additional storms


A restriction prohibiting residents from entering 114 still-habitable homes in an area considered a high avalanche risk has been lifted as of 8 p.m. Tuesday, according to The Governor of Svalbard.

The decision, announced at the governor’s website and during a community meeting at Kulturhuset at the same time the restriction was lifted, comes after temperatures dropped well below freezing and preciptation has ceased for what forecasters expect to be an extended duration.

“The Norwegian Geotechnical Institute’s professional avalanche assessment is that there is little danger avalanches on the mountainside of the evacuated settlement,” a statement at the governor’s website notes.

Heavy snow and winds that triggered the avalanche were followed by more than a week of unseasonably high temperatures and occasionally heavy rain, flooding some areas and posing a risk of slush avalanches.

About 80 people still in Longyearbyen were reportedly unable to enter their homes during the holidays. However, the governor’s statement notes a total about 200 people were living in the homes in the evacuation zone – although the total is uncertain. Numerous families returned to the city this week for resumption of the school year after spending the holidays on the mainland.

“It is also important to recognize that Longyearbyen is a landslide-prone area, and that some of the dwellings are more avalanche prone than others if similar weather conditions with strong winds and heavy snow occurs later,” the governor’s statement notes.

The pedestrian bridge at Perleporten remains closed, although several people were observed crossing it Tuesday.

Longyearbyen was added to Norway’s avalanche warning system four days after the avalanche that buried 11 homes and killed two residents. A more permanent monitoring system for the area is now in the works, and Longyearbyen’s municipal government is working with the geotechnical institute to map danger zones in order to help implement safety and redevelopment plans.