Rescue crews were finally able to start searching Tuesday afternoon for the bodies of a couple believed to have been killed when their house was hit by a snow- and rockslide in Balestrand, western Norway, Monday night. The force of the slide pushed the house completely off its foundation.
Extreme danger for more slides and avalanches in the mountainous area, because of heavy snow and rising temperatures, hindered search and rescue efforts earlier. The residents of the house in Tuftadalen, about four kilometers west of the center of Balestrand on the Sognefjord, were officially listed as missing after the slide was reported around 8pm Monday.
Rune Andersen, closest neighbor to the house that was swept off its foundation, told website bt.no that the snow and ice that crashed down the mountainside landed in the nearby river. The house, Andersen said, was located close to the river.
“It looked like a flood had gone through the area,” Andersen told bt.no. “There was snow and ice and water everywhere.”
Conditions at the site initially made it impossible to reach the debris, which was being carried downstream in the river and on to the fjord. Reports from a helicopter sent to survey the scene described the slide as “relatively large,” about a kilometer-and-a-half long and blocking the local road.
Many other roads are closed in the area of the country of Sogn og Fjordane because of avalanche danger and flooding. Residents of the area near the destroyed house Tuftadalen were evacuated.
A team of specially trained dogs was dispatched to the area to search through the ruins for the couple living in the house. They were not expected to have survived the accident, which local Balestrand Mayor Einar Målsnes called a “tragedy … that has put a veil of sorrow over the entire community.”
Divers were also standing by to aid in the search, near the mouth of the river. A Coast Guard vessel was also sent to the area to offer assistance.
For photos and video of the site from Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), click here (external link, in Norwegian).