All-clear: Government finds no criminal negligence in deadly Dec. 19 avalanche as cleanup of last debris ends


Although official warnings the area was at-risk have existed for more than 20 years, there are no grounds for criminal charges following the avalanche last Dec. 19 that destroyed 11 homes and killed two people, according to prosecutors.

“We consider such issues in relation to possible criminal offenses and thus have no basis to proceed with an investigation,” State Attorney Torstein Hevnskjel told NRK.

Regulations require Longyearbyen’s municipal government, formed in 2001, to “work systematically and comprehensively to ensure civil protection across sectors, with the aim of reducing the risk of loss of life or damage to health, property and the environment.” A 1992 report from Norwegian Geotechnical Institute stated the area of Vei 230 where the avalanche occurred was prone to snowslides, and preventative measures and evacuation plans should be implemented. But little action was taken.

Hevnskjel, who is a prosecutor for the Troms and Finnmark regions, told Svalbardposten the protection regulation is not criminal and therefore an individual cannot be charged for breaking it.

“We have considered the question of whether safeguards should have been implemented, but we did not find that anybody who might have done that has violated criminal provisions,” he said.

However the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning is still consider whether anything should have been done differently before and after the avalanche. The report, originally scheduled for release July 1, is now scheduled to be completed Sept. 1.

In addition, an assessment of other areas of Longyearbyen potentially at-risk of avalanches is being conducted by the consulting company Multiconsult on behalf of the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate. Dozens of residences beneath mountains on the east side of town were evacuated for a period of days following the avalanche, including many near the center of town and all of Nybyen, and city leaders are trying to determine if the structures are still safe to occupy.

The 11 homes on Vei 230 hit by the avalanche were destroyed beyond repair and officials determined it would not be safe to rebuild residences there. Construction crews demolished most of the wreckage within weeks, but the area remained fenced off until late June, when students were hired to remove the remaining debris after the snow melted.