AVALANCHE UPDATE: Evacuees allowed into homes from 3-6 p.m. Friday, noon-3 p.m. Saturday; more chances to come


People living in residents still evacuated after Tuesday’s avalanche will be allowed into their homes to retrieve belongings from 3-6 p.m. Friday and noon-3 p.m. Saturday, according to The Governor of Svalbard.

There will be more chances to enter residences at times to be announced. The long-term forecast for Longyearbyen calls for temperatures well below zero degrees Celsius and no precipitation through next Saturday.

The cold temperatures are slowing the stabilization of the snow from the storm that triggered Tuesday’s avalanche, according to the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate. The agency’s warning system – which is under withering scrutiny after officials decided not to evacuate homes hours before the avalanche occurred – states there is a Level Three risk level (considerable) Friday and Saturday,

“Avoid lee areas where a persistent weak layer can be hidden in the snowpack,” the forecast notes. “Avalanches are triggered most easily where the snowpack is thin, typically close to ridges and on convex formations. Remote triggering is possible.”

Gov. Kjerstin Askholt, in a prepared statement Friday afternoon, reaffirmed her recommendation to keep the homes closest to Sukkertoppen evacuated for the long term because “we have a situation in this area that still has not been fully clarified.”

“We have had two serious incidents in a short time and we can get bad weather with new avalanche dangers in the area. We therefore need to go through the situation carefully when it comes to avalanche danger here. In my assessment, these residences must be vacated permanently until there are secondary avalanche safeguards. This must be followed up with the property owners and the Longyearbyen Community Council.”

Members of the council attending an emergency meeting Thursday – the day after the long-term evacuation was announced – appear to agree with Askholt, according to Svalbardposten. In addition to safety concerns, many residents have stated they are not willing to move back to the area where two avalanches have destroyed homes since December of 2015.

But that decision will cause serious housing capacity hardships for both city workers and other residents.

“This means that we must use every an old ‘raillsjå’ we have in town,” said Bente Næverdal, a council member and department manager for the construction agency Statsbygg. “Those are old and dilapidated buildings that should have been demolished long ago. But to get people into newer and more appropriate houses we need land to build these on, and we don’t have that as of today.”

Askholt and city officials are scheduled to meet with owners of the evacuated properties on Monday to discuss the situation.