EVACUATION OF NYBYEN EXTENDED UNTIL MONDAY: Avalanche risk expected to remain high through weekend; traffic ban at Lia also extended

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An evacuation of student dorms and tourist lodging in Nybyen is being extended until Monday due to ongoing avalanche threats posed by strong winds and snow accumulations, The Governor of Svalbard announced Saturday afternoon.

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A hillside area at Lia where homes and the ski hill are located is off-limits to traffic due to high avalanche risk posed by a weekend blizzard and previous snow accumulation. Photo courtesy of Longyearbyen Lokalstyre.

The evacuation order for buildings along the mountainside at Nybyen took effect at 8 a.m. Saturday. A ban on traffic along that side is also in effect, as is a traffic ban along the hillside of Lia near the center of Longyearbyen.

“Strong southeasterly winds and snow are still forecast throughout Saturday afternoon and evening and Sunday,” the governor’s statement notes. “Among other things, there may be a danger of cornice fall avalanches that can trigger larger avalanches that can reach the buildings located on the east side of the road in Nybyen. Avalanches can also occur on the mountainside.”

The evacuation affects a total of 56 people, with 21 more in a tour group who was staying in that area expected to return to town Sunday, Svalbardposten reported. All of those displaced so far have found temporary housing, according to city officials.

A heightened risk of avalanches also exists in other terrain in the vicinity of Longyearbyen. The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate is forecasting a Level Three risk level (“high”) Sunday and Monday.

An avalanche about 400 meters long and 300 meters wide was reported at Fritham by a snowmobiling group on Saturday morning, but nobody was caught in the snow slide, according to the governor. They also noted others travelled to the area to look at the slide and issued a strong advisory to avoid such locations in addition to exercising extra caution while travelling.