Investigation begins into fatal landslide

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Police in Sørum, northeast of Oslo, have begun an investigation into what may have set off a landslide where six men from Lithuania were clearing a forest last week. Three of them escaped from the masses of mud and clay but three others disappeared and are presumed dead.

After five days of fruitless searching for the men, the search was suspended earlier this week. Experts from Norway’s state Geotekniske Institutt (NGI) and state waterways directorate NVE (Norges vassdrags- og energidirektorat) determined that it was unsafe to continue work at the site because water levels under the mud and clay had risen significantly.

That made the already unstable land mass even more dangerous for the emergency crews that had been searching for the men’s bodies since Thursday afternoon. The decision to suspend the search was made after a meeting of representatives from NVE, the local government, the state highway department (Vegvesenet) and county officials.

Police would continue to coordinate a new search when and if conditions are deemed safe. At the same time, police were coordinating an investigation into the cause of the landslide, which occurred at a farm called Asak Sondre Gård, where the men were working.

“We have alerted (the men’s) employer that we will be coming with an inquiry in the course of the week,” Cathrine Reusch of Arbeidstilsynet, the local labour authorities for Østfold and Akershus, told newspaper Aftenposten.

The labour authorities want to establish an overview of the Lithuanian men’s work situation, including labour contracts, time on the job, what kind of training they had and what kind of safety regulations were in force at the time of the accident. The authorities confirmed they had been in contact with the owner of the land, Hans-Ove Kirkeby, and that the labour authorities would be working with the police.

Bjørn Arne Tronier of the Øst Police District told Aftenposten that it was “much too early” to speculate on what set off the landslide. “So far, we have no reason to believe that there’s any connection between the forestry work that was being carried out and the landslide,” Tronier said.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund