Editor’s note: Everyone has their avalanche story; here – very briefly – is mine and a request to others who want to share (since we know many are tired of the media intruding)


I didn’t want to be a journalist Saturday – and in some ways I couldn’t be. Now, aside from simply updating people about things that matter, I still feel much the same way.

But I want to give a voice to those who want one, in their own words rather than filtered through mine.

Those reading my coverage of the avalanche and its aftermath may notice there’s no interviews by me with those who’ve lost loved ones, their homes and so much else, except for a few people who shared their experiences on their own. I wouldn’t dream of publishing a photo of two-year-old Nikoline Røkenes unless her family shares one, similar to the heart-wretching message of sorrow and thanks they sent to the city.

As much as possible my approach has been to stay out of the way since too many reporters are already adding to the chaos at the places most affected. Which isn’t to say I haven’t been part of the problem: there were complaints about the media going overboard with cameras at community meetings and I’m among the guilty. No doubt other things I’ve done and written have probably troubled people in ways I’m not aware of.

But for those here and in the “real world” who don’t understand Norwegian and are getting only fragments – not all of them accurate – about the tragedy and how Longyearbyen has responded, I’m offering a chance for locals and others directly impacted by the avalanche to share their stories in what I hope will be an ongoing series of readers’ posts at the Icepeople website (summaries of which will be in the print editions). They can be as long or as short as you like and – aside from factual inaccurcies, libelous content and spelling/grammar errors – will not be edited (any changes will be sent to you for approval before posting).

Your stories can be sent to my e-mail at marksabbatini@yahoo.com or the comments section below.

Because I’m asking you to share your personal experiences during this tragedy, here are mine – intentionally kept short because my pain and worries are insignificant compared to most others:

I weathered the storm like most – very fearful about what was happening outside – but was incredibly thankful to be safe at home and simply kept posting updates about what was happening until 4 a.m. or so Saturday. Woke up a little after noon Saturday thinking it was a relief the worst was past, only to discover a minute later it was only beginning. I rather lost my ability to grasp reality at that moment, as I suspect so many others did.

Rushing out to my car minutes later I noticed significant damage to the rear and passenger’s rearview window – a neighbor later told me a wildly spinning pallet carried by the hurricane-force winds smashed into my car – but I didn’t care much then, or now, since it was still driveable.

While others were heroically grabbing shovels and responding to the avalanche site to rescue their friends and neighbors, I responded with my camera and notebook – and found myself barely able to take pictures and completely unable to interview anyone except a police officer with the simple question “do you know if everybody who was here is OK?”

Obviously, as we all found out quickly, they weren’t. And almost immediately afterward officials decided to evacuate numerous residential areas including mine. In a state of panic – and not thinking much about the potential risk – I fled to my apartment for a couple of minutes to fetch my phone charger, camera battery charger and a hard drive that has most of my adult life in digital form. An interesting real-life test of “if you had a minute to grab what you valued most…”

Since then I’ve simply been trying to post updates about what seems important, while interviewing a few people who I’m grateful were willing to tell their stories. Obviously it’ll be the dominent topic I write about for a long time to come since – as a journalist and someone living in a threatened area – it’s hard to think about anything else. Including, incredibly, the crisis at Store Norske.

But, as so many others have said better than I ever could, the community’s response to this crisis has been incredible in terms of helping those in need. And despite the mass layoffs and other huge problems still to come due to the coal mining crisis, I’m somehow harboring the hope the horrible events of this weekend give all of us the resolve to weather and overcome the storm yet to come, so to speak.

Finally, to everyone helping me share information with the world during this crisis and the many who’ve expressed appreciation for the coverage, my most sincere and undying thanks. May all of us find something we can be thankful about this holiday season.

And for those worried I’m losing my “edge,” have no fear: I’ll be writing about a few truly bizarre incidents and deplorable social media comments in my year-end edition next week. By then, I’m hoping we all might be able to read and appreciate that.

– Mark Sabbatini