Snow barrier: Evacuation of homes in avalanche area upheld until summer; access to retrieve items cut back to once a week

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For the past month people have generally been allowed into their evacuated homes for a few hours a day to collect belongings except for a few rare days when storms heightened the avalanche threat. Those days are over at least until the snow is gone.

Nobody will be allowed to move into the evacuated homes until then and access to retrieve items will likely be limited to once a week, depending on snow conditions, according to an announcement issued Wednesday by The Governor of Svalbard. The governor is citing her authority under Norway’s Police Act to enforce the evacuation, even though a permanent decision must be made by other governing bodies.

“In practice, the ban will very likely apply to the whole area is bare of snow,” Gov. Kjerstin Askholt said in a prepared statement.

The timing of weekly entries to retrieve belongings “will depend on weather conditions, and the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE)assessment of avalanche danger,” according to the governor’s statement.

“The timing will be announced at the governor’s website and on Facebook before every weekend – the first time this coming Friday,” the statement adds.

The evacuation of 55 residences occurred after an avalanche Feb. 21 destroyed 12 apartment buildings on Vei 228. It was the second avalanche causing major damage in about a year, following the Dec. 19, 2015 avalanche on Vei 230 that destroyed 11 homes and killed two people.

The governor, after consulting with NVE officials following the most recent avalanche ordered the row of residences closest to the mountain in the entire at-risk area to be evacuated indefinitely. The affected addresses are Vei 222-7, 222-9, 222-11, 222-13, 222-15, 222-17, Vei 226-10, 226-12, 226-31, 226-33, 226-35 and 226-37.

The city of Longyearbyen has already decided not to house employees in the area again regardless if the evacuation order is lifted, although Store Norske and some other property owners say they are awaiting further developments before making a final decision. Among other things, officials at the local and national level are discussing possible snow barriers in high-risk zones that might be at least partially in place by next winter.

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