AVALANCHE UPDATE: Flood risk continues, evacuation of homes extended, people in city-provided emergency housing must leave by Jan. 8


Work crews are moving tons of slush, and experts are continuing to evaluate the risk of flood and avalanches, in parts of Longyearbyen where homes, roads and a pedestrian bridge have been impacted, The Governor of Svalbard announced Saturday afternoon.

The pedestrian bridge at Perleporten and a nearby snowmobile trail have been closed for several days, and the road in Adventdalen was blocked at Bolterdalen for a few hours New Year’s Eve, due to heavy flooding and slush resulting from a freakish heat wave that resulted a record temperature of nine degrees Celsius on Wednesday. The heat, combined with occasionally heavy rain, dissolved the immense snowfall that triggered the Dec. 19 avalanche that buried 11 homes and killed two people.

Workers are removing slush from the riverbed near the pedestrian bridge and along the road about 100 meters upward to prevent possible flooding, a statement at the government’s website notes.

During the day the (Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate) and (Norwegian Geotechnical Institute) will assess whether there is a danger of slush avalanches in some places along the road out to the airport. They will also do thorough research of the avalanche area on Sukkertoppen.”

The experts also conducted helicopter and ground surveys of avalanche-prone areas Friday evening, determining an evacuation order for about 80 residents living in the vicinity of the avalanche should remain in effect. The weather forecast calls for above-freezing temperatures and occasionally heavy precipitation through the weekend, with precipitation ending and temperatures dropping sharply starting Monday.

Residents in emergency housing provided by the city will need to move out by Jan. 8, according to a statement published Tuesday at the city’s website.

“Longyearbyen Lokalstyre is responsible for emergency housing for Longyearbyen’s citizens during the immediate time after a catastrophe,” the statement notes. “This phase is ending and Longyearbyen Lokalstyre is responsible only for its own employees’ housing.”

“Everyone who has been given emergency housing by Longyearbyen Lokalstyre during the immediate emergency-time must contact their own landlords and resolve their own housing challenges by the end of the first working week in January.”

The announcement generated concern among some residents wondering if everyone displaced will be able to find alternative housing via their landlord, insurance company or other means.

“Common sense dictates that when the government is actively reaching out and closing off areas where people live, and where one can be punished for going into them, is it the government’s responsibility to find an alternative place of residence?” wrote Simen Henriksen in a post on a Longyearbyen community Facebook page.

Longyearbyen City Manager Lars Ole Saugnes told NRK the city will step in if a person or family is truly faced with the prospect of being homeless.

“Then we’ll see what we are able to do,” he said. “There is a limit to what we have of furnished residences; we probably have enough empty homes. But there are beds and flats, so I’m sure that everyone will have a bed to lie in.”

“Our priority has been to give those who actually have had their residence destroyed a new home. We have given them the furnished homes that exist and now we are working to find homes for those who were on vacation. They will eventually get the opportunity to stay in furnished containers if it should be necessary, Our priority has been to give those who actually have received residence destroyed a new home. We have given them the furnished homes that exist, and so we are working to find homes for those who were on vacation. They will eventually have the opportunity to stay in furnished cargo containers if it should be necessary.”