AVALANCHE UPDATE: Students return to school, participate in memorial for avalanche victims; public memorial for Nikoline Røkenes, 2, on Saturday


Students returning to Longyearbyen School for the first time since avalanche Dec. 19 that killed Atle Husby, 42, a teacher at the school, and Nikoline Røkenes, 2, gathered with teachers Tuesday morning to pay tribute to the victims and discuss the tragedy.

“In commemoration, we will light candles for our teacher and colleague, Atle, and a light for two-year-old Nikoline who went to nursery school next to the school,” Longyearbyen School Headmaster Anne Vikanes wrote in a message posted at the city’s website Monday.

A public memorial service for Nikoline, as a well as a commemoration for her sister, Pernille, 3, who survived after they were buried in their father’s home for two hours, is scheduled at noon Saturday at Svalbard Church.

Students returning to school gathered a few minute later for the lighting of candles, after which they met in classrooms with teachers and assistants, according to Vikanes.

“The pupils and adults will talk with each other; about Christmas, about the trouble that happened in Longyearbyen when landslide struck, about what students are concerned about at their level,” she wrote. “How Christmas was, what students are looking forward to and dreading. About what makes us sad and what makes us happy.”

“We have been advised that we should try to have as normal a school life as possible. After the first session there will be recess and play time, and we will meet again after that and the school will take its course. We will be aware of the students’ reactions.”

Students will also likely be told details of what happened during the avalanche and its aftermath later this week, Vikanes wrote. She also is urging parents to contact the school if there are circumstances about students that officials should know about.

Husby, 42, who was also a musician with several local groups, died before rescuers could reach his home after it was hit by a wave of snow up to four meters high. Røkenes died the next day at a hospital in Tromsø.