It was impossible to drive the main E39 highway between the cities of Kristiansand and Stavanger during much of the weekend, after the extreme weather system known as “Synne” slammed into southwestern Norway. Severe flooding left many areas of the Rogaland and Agder counties under water, and damage was characterized as “enormous.”
Officials at the state highway department, Statens vegvesen, struggled to keep the E39 highway open on Saturday, after another night of pouring rain and strong winds. The storm that state meteorologists had warned about last last week hit even harder than expected, and by Saturday afternoon the E39 had to close at Helleland for all vehicles except large trucks.
“There was just so much water over the road that we couldn’t let cars pass through any longer,” said Eivind Stangeland, section leader for the highway department’s operations and maintenance for the Stavanger region. Detours were set up via County Road 44 from Flekkefjord to Eigersund and Sandnes.
By Saturday night, the water levels had risen so high that the E39 had to be closed to all traffic. Since the alternative local roads are too narrow for large trucks, the main road transport route into Stavanger was blocked, and then most of the alternative routes where detours had been set up, including County Road 44, were closed as well.
Around 40 roads closed
On Sunday morning, the road remained closed at Helleland and flooding also blocked the highway at Bjerkreim. The highway department reported late Sunday afternoon that “all available crews” were out working in an effort to open the highway, but there was still too much water on it and many other roads in southern Rogaland.
“Folks just have to wait before trying to drive between Rogaland and Vest-Agder,” read a press release from Staten vegvesen at 3pm. “At best the road may open sometime tonight.” On Saturday they had pleaded with the public not to attempt driving at all.
As of Sunday evening, around 40 roads in southern Rogaland and west Agder were closed. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the only vehicular access to Norway’s oil capital was via Telemark County, but that requires driving over the high mountains at Haukeli. The road remained open but restricted to escorted convoys, and with a blizzard bearing down on the area, it could quickly close as well.
Worst flooding in years
Wide areas of southwestern Norway were experiencing their worst flooding in years. Entire towns were under water, churchyards were submerged and several landslides cut off other roads. Meteorologists were also warning of severe avalanche danger at higher elevations because of a sudden rise in temperatures and strong winds and rain.
The incessant rain of the past few days also sent the Bjerkreims waterway system over its banks. The town of Vikeså was among those flooded, with evacuations and major damage reported. Local residents paddled in canoes down streets in the central business district and several schools were expected to be closed on Monday.
For more photos, see NRK’s aerial coverage here (external link, in Norwegian).
The historic and picturesque town of Feda in Kvinesdal was also among those hit hard, and its bridge over the Feda River collapsed. The land around the foundations of many houses washed away, and officials warned it may just be a matter of time before they’d be carried off by the force of the raging waters. Several boat houses were already destroyed.
Many residents were up all night as the storm kept raging, and police supervised evacuations. Kvinesdal’s cultural center was flooded, as was the large cemetery around the town’s large white wooden church. Hundreds were also evacuated Saturday in and around Eigersund. The amount of rain was more than sewer and drainage systems could absorb, with 299.2 millimeters falling just between Friday evening and Sunday morning.
Helicopters were standing by to airlift any residents needing emergency medical aid. No injuries had been reported by Sunday evening. Officials could only urge residents to wait out the storm: “Folks should just stay home, light a fire in the fireplace and try to relax,” traffic operator Svein Harald Masterød of Vegtrafikksentralen told NRK.