Hundreds evacuated and damage spreads as flood waters rise

Neighbours were crying and hugging one another Thursday morning as they watched raging flood waters slam into their homes in Kvam, in the valley of Gudbrandsdalen. Nearly 300 homeowners were evacuated during the night, as were others farther south in Eidsvoll and in several other communities around southern Norway as rain and snowmelt turned rivers and creeks into uncontrollable torrents.

In Eidsvoll, northeast of Oslo, around 40 homeowners were told to leave their homes because of fears a dam further upslope would burst. Others were evacuated in the counties of Hedmark, Oppland, Buskerud and Telemark as officials categorized this year’s spring flooding as the worst since 1995, so far.

It may get even worse, with more rain predicted and more rapid melting of snow and ice at higher elevations. Instead of beginning to melt slowly at the end of winter, this year’s unusually cold spring kept the snow and ice frozen well into May. When temperatures suddenly soared last week, the annual run-off quickly turned into the gushing torrents now threatening so many areas that emergency crews were struggling to keep up with demand.

For photos of the flooding and related damage from NRK, click here (external link, in Norwegian).

The pumping of flooded cellars quickly became a lower priority on Wednesday as crews worked to prevent more damage by trying to divert the deluge. Roads and major highways were blocked and closed all over southern Norway, with the heavily trafficked E6 highway through Gudbrandsdalen closed in several places. The list of closed roads was so long that radio announcers on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) referred listeners to the state highway department’s website for the full list that was constantly being updated (external link, in Norwegian: “Stengt” means closed).

State railway NSB and railroad Jernbaneverket were also facing enormous challenges, with tracks washed out in numerous places or covered by mud- and rockslides. Main train routes through Gudbrandsdalen and Østerdalen that connect Oslo and Trondheim had to be shut down and NSB couldn’t provide alternative bus transport because adjacent roads were blocked as well. The Kongsvinger line to Oslo re-opened, however, providing some good news for commuters Thursday morning, but passengers were warned of delays throughout the day.

This rain-splashed web camera from the state highway department showed a portion of the E6 highway through Hamar still above water Thursday morning, but it's closed in several spots farther north. PHOTO: Statens Vegvesen

This rain-splashed web camera from the state highway department showed a portion of the E6 highway through Hamar still above water Thursday morning, but it’s closed in several spots farther north. PHOTO: Statens Vegvesen

Several long-distance truck drivers had to spend the night in or around Hamar because of highway closures that trapped them where they were, not least because their vehicles are too large to drive on the narrower secondary roads that were being used for detours.

In addition to the evacuations in Eidsvoll and Kvam, around 20 homeowners were ordered to leave their homes in Nesbyen and 43 in Nord-Aurdal. There were reports they may never be allowed to return and will be forced to rebuild in other areas because of the increased incidence of flooding in recent years.

Insurance companies were launching a debate over whether other policy holders should be expected to effectively pay for the losses suffered by those who insisted on rebuilding in areas hit by floods just two years ago. Politicians are expected to tackle the issue when the immediate crisis was over.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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