Stormy weather hits royal tour

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Crown Princess Mette-Marit wasn’t exactly having a bad hair day, but gale-force winds and heavy rain made it hard to maintain royal appearances when she and Crown Prince Haakon began an official tour of some small townships in western Norway. The entire area has been hit by storms that have sparked floods and closed roads.

Some key highways remained closed Wednesday afternoon, including one linking Hordaland County with Sogn og Fjordane, the main route out of Bergen. Two landslides and flooding blocked the E16 highway between Voss and Gudvangen, and authorities said it would likely take a week before the highway could be cleared and reopened. There also were two slides between the Stalheim Tunnel and Gudvangen.

A bridge at Skromle between Tvinde and Sundve was also flooded and the storm delayed ferry service over several fjords but no injuries were reported.

The young royals got a real taste of wild “vestland” weather when they launched a three-day tour around Rogaland County, a bit south of Hordaland. The crown couple had chosen the island of Utsira as their first stop, not least because it continues to be the home of 215 hardy souls who have braved countless storms and economic downturns and upturns over the years.

When Crown Princess Mette-Marit arrived, she had no rain hat or rain coat and was wearing low-heeled shoes. She quickly switched to sturdy rubber boots.

“Coming to Utsira involves a strong meeting with the forces of nature,” Mette-Marit said, adding that she had actually come to a place “where no one could believe that anyone could live.”

Yet the community holds out, and everyone reportedly turned out for the royal visit. Newspaper Aftenposten noted that Utsira has attracted other celebrity guests as well, including the Russian tycoon and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovitsj, who was keen to see the world’s first full-scale power plant run by wind and hydrogen. It was launched on Utsira by Norwegian state oil company Statoil in 2004.

The island 15 kilometers west of Karmøy also sports a grocery store, a school for 30 first to 10th graders, a nursing home with eight beds and a day care center with 18 children. There’s also a small clinic, a cultural center and swimming pool on the island, but no local police.

A wind-blown Crown Prince Haakon and his wife claimed they were impressed with what they saw, not least how everyone has to cope with the elements. From Utsira, the couple traveled on to mainland destinations in Rogaland, including Gjesdal, Gloppedalsura and Egersund.