Mountain set off red alerts again

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UPDATED: It was another tense weekend for residents living under the mountain formation known as “Mannen” in the central Norwegian county of Møre og Romsdal. Geologists and state authorities were in their highest “red alert” stage of preparedness, after heavy rains accelerated the instability of the mountainside, which has been threatening to crash down on the valley below.

This photo shows the mountain known as "Mannen" with its unstable portion circled. Experts fear it's about to loosen and send tons of rocks and debris crashing down on the valley below. PHOTO: Åknes/Tafjord Beredskap IKS

The circle shows the same area of the rocky mountainside known as “Mannen” that’s earlier threatened to break away and crash down on the valley below. Authorities said on Sunday that the danger area is now three times as large, after monitoring equipment showed the rock shifting as much as 16 centimeters during the night. PHOTO: Åknes/Tafjord Beredskap IKS

Residents were evacuated, the train line running through the valley at Rauma was halted and emergency crews were braced for a major rockslide. On Sunday, geologists and Rauma Mayor Lars Olav Hustad reported that “Mannen” had never before shifted as much as it had during the night. The rocky face of the mountain had moved 16 centimeters, setting off the red alert that signals extreme danger for a rockslide.

The sharp acceleration surprised the geologists who are monitoring the mountainside around the clock. “We are following the continual movements because of their uncertainty,” Lars Harald Blikra, chief geologist at the state agency NVE that’s in charge of waterways and geological surveys, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “The acceleration rate was so great that we wouldn’t have believed it last night.”

A close-up of the area of the mountainside that's threatening to break off and crash down on the valley below. PHOTO: Rauma kommune

A close-up of the area of the mountainside that’s threatening to break off, with a devastating rockslide to follow. PHOTO: Rauma kommune

It slowed during the day on Sunday, down to around five to six centimeters, and on Monday the experts believed the movement had tapered off. Residents were being allowed to move home, when the risk of a rockslide was lowered from red to gold.

The danger posed by the mountainside literally breaking off, and its rock and debris crashing hundreds of meters down to the valley floor, remained high, however. Hustad said that residents themselves would need to decide whether to move home, but police wouldn’t force them to stay away.

Experts have been monitoring the mountainside for years, and last autumn, concerns were high as well. Local residents were also evacuated and the train line halted, too, but it all blew over and the media were widely blamed for the drama. Now the authorities are sounding alarms again. NRK reported on the danger all through the weekend and press briefings were held. The media isn’t being blamed now, for merely trying to report on the concerns and precautions.

The mountains where Mannen lies in Romsdal is a spectacularly scenic area of Norway, favoured by climbers, hikers and, not least, BASE jumpers. PHOTO: NVE

The mountains where Mannen lies in Romsdal is a spectacularly scenic area of Norway, favoured by climbers, hikers and, not least, BASE jumpers. PHOTO: NVE

Instead, it’s the heavy rains that hammered much of southern Norway during the past week that are now being blamed for the increased instability of the mountainside. Around 33 millimeters of rain fell on the mountains in the highly scenic area of Romsdal that’s often compared to Yosemite National Park in California, with its dramatic mountains and sheer granite walls rising from the valley floor. More rain will only increase the movement of the mountain, geologists fear, as they watch and wait.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund