Wreckage removal begins: Demolition of 11 homes crushed by avalanche likely to take three weeks; area off-limits for months


Demolition of the 11 homes destroyed by the Dec. 19 avalanche started Tuesday, but while removal of the homes is expected to take about three weeks the area will likely not be fully cleared and accessible until summer.

“Please be aware the site will be closed for the public until all the snow has melted, and all building materials and items have been removed,” a statement issued by Longyearbyen’s municipal government notes. “It is therefore forbidden to walk inside the construction fence at any time.”

Several residents in the area have also complained about visitors treating the area like a tourist attraction, at times aggressively questioning locals about the tragedy.

LNS Spitsbergen is performing the removal work, which includes disassembling the homes using a grapple – a method designed to minimize environmental damage from debris – and storing the material at Hotellneset until it is transported to the mainland next month.

It will take about two days to demolish each home, according to the city. Furnishings, appliances and other large items are being sorted out before being brought to the storage site, and LNSS is also surveying the avalanche area for hazarous materials such as fuel.

Five of the homes were owned by the city, five by Store Norske and one was privately owned. While the total damages – and insurance payout – remain unknown, the Longyearbyen Community Council is expected next Tuesday to approve spending 15 million kroner for five apartments at Elvesletta as replacement housing in anticipation of a settlement of that amount.