Townships poorly prepared for floods

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As floodwaters continued to inundate large portions of southeastern Norway on Thursday, state authorities were criticizing local governments for allowing too much construction in areas vulnerable to flooding. State engineers and highway builders, however, seem just as guilty.

Several thousand Norwegians live in areas that likely would be considered flood plains in other countries, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Thursday. Local municipal authorities in the townships involved have allowed them to build homes and commercial properties along rivers and lakes prone to flooding, prompting state officials at the auditing agency Riksrevisjonen to claim that their flood preparation isn’t good enough.

Potentially fatal
“It can in the worst case lead to loss of life if a flood hits an area where people, with the townships’ authorization, have settled and built homes,” Helge Strand Østtveiten of Riksrevisjonen told NRK. “It’s an unfortunate situation.”

He said many townships don’t know which areas have been identified by state experts as especially vulnerable to flooding, even though they’re responsible. Some of those experts at the state agency in charge of Norway’s waterways, Norges Vassdrags- og Energidirektorat (NVE), were also getting some of the blame for poor communication and follow-up with the townships.

“We can see that in hindsight, but now we are stressing both earthslide- and flood danger and how to prepare for it,” Anne Britt Leifseth of NVE told NRK.

The recent flooding closed the main E6 state highway last week through Gudbrandsdalen, where improvements to the inadequate two-lane highway already were underway. Now that project faces delays, not least because state highway authorities have admitted the new highway – which, like the old one still in place, runs adjacent to the river through Gudbrandsdalen – likely is being built at too low of an elevation. It may be vulnerable to future flooding as well, so revisions are under consideration.

Disruption continues
Damage estimates from the flooding that began late last week have risen beyond NOK 200 million and more flooding is warned in the areas south of Lake Mjøsa. The government has promised aid to supplement insurance settlements.

While the highways through Gudbrandsdalen and Østerdalen have reopened for traffic, the Dovrebanen train line between Oslo and Trondheim remains disrupted because the tracks are still closed between Lillehammer and Dombås. Passengers need to transfer over to improvised bus service set up by state railway NSB through the affected areas. Thursday’s train from Oslo at 2:45pm, for example, was due to depart but passengers would need to disembark at Lillehammer and travel by bus to Dombås. Another train would be waiting there to take passengers on towards Trondheim.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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