STORM ALERT: Governor orders homes in Lia and Nybyen evacuated ahead of blizzard on second anniversary of deadly avalanche


An evacuation of homes in portions of Lia and Nybyen as of 10 p.m. Monday night has been ordered by The Governor of Svalbard due to an approaching blizzard that coincides with the second anniversary of an avalanche two years ago that destroyed 11 homes and killed two people.

Access to the affected areas is also being sealed off, according to a statement from the governor’s office. The affected buildings are virtually everything between Vei 222 and Vei 230 in Lia, and the buildings on the mountainside side of the road in Nybyen.

“The Norwegian Meteorological Institute reports that there is a possibility of heavy rain and snow, as well as storm from the southeast in exposed areas starting Tuesday morning,” the statement notes. “The wind is expected to decrease Tuesday night.”

The forecast from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute as of Monday late evening calls for up to 20 millimeters of precipitation and winds gusting to nearly 70 kilometers an hour Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. But it calls for virtually no significant precipitation and wind before noon Tuesday, and only mild snow and strong breezes before 6 p.m.

But the governor has opted heavily on the side of caution since a second avalanche occurred in February of this year that destroyed two apartment buildings, with avalanche experts deciding a few hours beforehand an evacuation of the buildings wasn’t necessary.

“Because the weather prognosis is uncertain, and based on the professional advice from NVE, the governor has decided to evacuate tonight rather than risk rushing an evacuation tomorrow,” Terje Carlsen, a spokesperson for the governor, wrote in response to a request about the suddenness of the order.

The evacuation order is in effect until further notice and is based on an assessment from avalanche experts with the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE), which is rating the risk level on Tuesday at Level 3 (“considerable”).

The NVE’s forecast notes that wind and snow conditions during the peak and aftermath of the storm Tuesday night and Wednesday will be similar to those that triggered the 2015 avalanche, including a weak existing snow layer and strong southeastern winds that may result in hazardous accumulation. But the amount of precipitation and wind speeds are expected to be lower than the storm two years ago.

The city, which has in recent weeks advised residents to make their own housing arrangements during evacuations this winter, issued a statement saying those needing emergency housing should contact the  housing office in the foyer on the first floor of Næringsbygget before 11 p.m. (or at 989 05 338 or +47 989 05 338). Numerous people posting on a local Facebook page are also offering beds and rooms for those in need.