Melting snow isolated thousands

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A sudden rise in temperatures over the weekend set off a series of floods and snow- and rock slides all over western Norway, forcing road closures and isolating towns and villages. By Monday morning, more than 70 local roads and highways were blocked by mounds of snow, or closed for safety reasons.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that even the main E-39 highway was blocked, near Haugen Camping in Jølster, and the state highway department (Statens Vegvesenet) was warning residents against driving.

“There is huge danger of more slides and the situation is highly unpredictable,” Camilla Einarsen of Vegvesenet told NRK. The warning applied to all of western Norway but especially the counties of Hordaland and Sogn og Fjordane.

The mountain towns of Odda and Sauda were among those all but cut off because of snow- and rock slides that were blocking roads in and out of town. State Highway 13, for example, was blocked at Sandvinvatnet outside of Odda. Other roads were covered with water, with a base of ice along the asphalt.

“The situation on the roads is very, very difficult,” reported Egil Torheim of NRK. “It’s like rivers running over the roads with a layer of ice under the water, so all the sand that was spread on the roads (by highway maintenance crews) has washed away.” Neither ambulances nor fire trucks would be able to get through in case of emergency.

Problems started on Sunday, after temperatures suddenly had risen following a period of relatively heavy snowfall. The snow is unstable and warmer weather, above the freezing point most places, dramatically increased the chance of slides and avalanches.

State meteorologist Ingrid Berntsen said a low-pressure system and winds that moved in from Iceland were abating, however, and the danger may should ease as lower temperatures return. “There will be less precipitation than we had during the weekend,” she told NRK.

Police feared at least one tragedy could have occurred already. A snowplow and its driver were missing after snow and rocks thundered down onto county highway 42 between Tonstad and Helleland Sunday night.

“We’re afraid the vehicle and its driver were swept into (the lake) Gyavatnet,” Jan Henning Andersen of the Rogaland Police District told NRK. A search involving a Sea King helicopter, divers and police was launched within an hour of the slide, but had to be suspended because of the danger of more slides. The search was resuming Monday morning.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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