Three more caught in an avalanche

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Yet another avalanche thundered down a mountainside on the large island of Senja south of Tromsø late Tuesday afternoon, just as three men were snowmobiling through the area. Two of them were brothers, all are believed to have been killed, and the community of Berg on Senja set up crisis teams while police issued more warnings against venturing into steep mountain areas.

Steinar Gudmunden of the Troms Police District reported snowmobile tracks into the area where the avalanche hit, and none out again. Emergency crews found one abandoned snowmobile and one helmet Tuesday evening, but the three  snowmobilers in their 30s were still missing Wednesday morning.

“We know what the tracks mean and contacted their families,” Gudmundsen told news bureau NTB. “There is unfortunately reason to believe that they were all caught in the avalanche.”

Danger hindered search efforts
Bad weather and dangerous conditions forced emergency teams to halt their search and rescue effort Tuesday evening. The risk of searchers being caught in more slides was simply too high.

Officials planned to resume the search for the men at 10am Wednesday. Police were waiting, however, for a report from avalanche experts at the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI) to evaluate the risk of more avalanches before they’d allow search teams to be sent into the area.

“The conditions are very difficult,” Anita Røsli of the Troms Police District told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Wednesday morning. “It’s very windy, it’s snowing heavily and it’s a dangerous area to go into. It’s just not safe.”

Large emergency response
Around 50 persons from the Red Cross, Norwegian Peoples Aid (Norsk Folkehjelp), Civil Defense and the Norwegian Search and Rescue Dogs organizaion (Norsk Redningshunder) were at the scene. Meanwhile, the community of Berg on Senja organized crisis teams to help the families and friends of the three men deal with the tragedy.

“We need to concentrate on tackling this as best we can,” Mayor Guttorm Nergård told NRK. “When three men are involved in a small local community, many people are affected.”

The men had planned to go snowmobiling together during the Easter holiday week, despite severe warnings of avalanche danger. Morten Eriksen, who owns a hytte (cabin) in the area, described it as “a very narrow valley with high mountains on both sides.” When avalanche danger is high, it can be dangerous, he said.

“It’s not a valley we usually go into during winter,” Eriksen told NRK. “But we don’t know what happened. Right now we just feel helpless, and it’s the worst for the families.”

‘Play Ludo instead’
Police, geologists, emergency medical doctors and meteorologists have been among those warning of severe avalanche danger all over Norway in recent weeks, and especially in Troms and Nordland counties. They’ve also worried that winter sports enthusiasts haven’t taken the warnings seriously enough.

The police chief in Troms, Ole B Sæverud, was warning against entering any mountain areas on Wednesday.

“It’s fantastic tour terrain, that’s why people come here, but right now, it’s extremely dangerous,” Sæverud told NRK. “There’s very, very high risk of avalanche, and we’re urging those on holiday to ski only in open areas at low elevation, or stay inside and play traditional holiday games like Ludo or read a book. People should use the Easter holidays to do other things than ski in the steep mountains.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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