Huge landslide blocks mountain highway

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UPDATED: A major rock- and landslide crashed down a mountainside near Voss Wednesday morning, blocking the main E16 highway between Oslo and Bergen. It’s likely to remain closed for quite a while.

Geologists said that an Asko truck driver, whose large vehicle was carrying food products to Voss and got caught in the slide, was lucky he wasn’t killed. After scrambling to search for any other cars caught in the slide, rescue workers felt confident no others were buried under the rubble or hurled into the adjacent fjord.

Can’t start cleaning up yet
Harald Hauso, a geologist for the state highway department Statens vegvesen, said the slide was the largest he’s ever seen on the stretch of highway that’s now blocked for traffic between Voss and Bergen. Clean-up efforts would have to wait, he said.

“We can’t begin to clear the rubble until we have control over the slide, and until we register just how large it really is,” Hauso told state broadcaster NRK. “It will take time before we can reopen the road.”

Since the mountainside remained unstable throughout the morning, with more boulders, trees and rocks sliding down onto the highway and out into the fjord, it was also initially difficult for emergency crews to do their work. Newspaper Bergens Tidende (BT) reported at midday that search and rescue coordinators had sent boats and divers to the scene, along with ambulance, police and a drone to get aerial video of the slide.

Truck driver escaped serious injury
Arve Samsonsen, operations leader for the Vest Police District, said emergency crews were relieved when they made contact with the driver of the truck caught in the slide. He was remarkably only slightly injured and eventually managed to escape from the cab of his partially buried vehicle.

The highway was closed between the Trollkone and Hyvings tunnels. State railway NSB also closed its main Bergensbane train line between Bergen and Oslo but it was rolling again by midday.

Witnesses on the other side of the Bolstadfjord reported that the slide “sounded like fighter jets taking off” and appeared to be at least 100 meters (more than 300 feet) wide. Knut Tyssen told BT that the rubble on the road was at least three meters high.

Truck thrown 22 meters
“Divers are in the water now, to try to clarify whether any other vehicles were swept off the road,” Samonsen told BT at midday. “We haven’t received any reports of anyone missing, but we want to check anyway.” Police later reported that no other vehicles were caught in the slide and that it was “a miracle” there was no loss of life.

The truck driver, a man from Poland working for the Norwegian Asko grocery transport firm, reported seeing a “huge cloud of dirt and dust” as he emerged from the nearby tunnel and he instinctively veered away from the mountainside. “His truck was thrown at least 22 meters,” Frank Listøl of the police told BT, and landed on its side. Hauso later said the driver escaped death by a “matter of millimeters.” His injuries appeared minor but he was sent for a medical check in nearby Dale.

The blocked road created immediate traffic disruption, just at the start of the busy summer tourism season. State highway officials were recommending Highway 7 over Hardanger as an alternative route, while road crews prepared to attempt clearing the slide site. It was unclear when the E16 would reopen. Highway officials had earlier in the day posted warnings on other mountain roads after unusually cold temperatures left several highways covered with snow at high elevations.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund