Occupants of the 16 apartments at Gamle Sykehuset spent about two hours frantically packing as many possessions as possible late Thursday afternoon after the city declared the building uninhabitable due to heavy damaged caused by thawing permafrost.
Told shortly before 4 p.m. they had to leave the building by 6 p.m., residents spent their scant time throwing everything from pictures to dishes into boxes and bags, carrying out large items such as furniture and dog cages, and calling friends with vehicles that could be loaded for the emergency evacuation.
“I’ve been scared to stay here,” said Sam Ziaei, who owns four apartments in the building, in an interview with Svalbardposten. “And in the spring I would not in any case stay in the building.”
(Full disclosure: Icepeople Editor Mark Sabbatini, the author of this article, is among the residents forced to evacuate the apartment building.)
Residents then met at the main municipal government building, where Marianne Aasen, the city’s technical manager, said a just-completed assessment by Multiconsult found the building could collapse at any time, especially during a severe storm.
“This report indicates that the condition of the building is in the worst category,” she said, adding the city is legally required to ensure nobody is living in such structures.
The building, originally a hospital decades ago, has suffered some slight damage during the past several years. But there has been rapid decaying since last fall, with a row of large cracks visible between windows on the external rear walls. There are also large cracks on the interior walls and ceilings, crooked stairs, doors that won’t close properly and other malformations.
“We have registered significant damage to load-bearing structures,” the comsultant’s report notes. “We have revealed damage that fractured and caused some major damage to the foundation.”
The displaced residents were assigned temporary housing for two weeks, after which they will have to find new homes on their own. The city also allowed the residents to continue moving items out until 10 p.m. Thursday night.
Aasen said the building will be reopened at later time to allow removal of additional items after consulting with the displaced residents.