UPDATED: Geologists gave Norway’s state highway department a green light to start clearing the E16 highway between Voss and Gudvangen on Thursday, and it reopened on Saturday. The road was abruptly closed after enormous boulders rolled down its adjacent mountainside, blocking it and causing severe damage to the highway itself.
The highway, which is the most heavily trafficked route over the mountains that divide southeastern Norway from the West Coast, was closed since the rockslide occurred on Tuesday evening. It’s especially busy at this time of year because of the summer tourism season.
Geologists had to assure state officials that the mountainside had stabilized before work crews could be allowed into the area. “The boulders that came down from the mountain are very large and have to be split up before we can remove them from the roadway,” Ingar Hals, acting divisional director of the state highway department Statens vegvesen, said on Thursday. Crews would need to use explosives to blast them apart, and then came the road repair work.
Hals initially predicted the clearance work would take around two to three more days and then came the repair assessment and repaving work, but crews worked faster than that. At midday Friday, Statens vegvesen announced the road could reopen at around 11am Saturday in both directions. Speed limits would be reduced, however, because of damage to the road that crews would continue to repair next week.
Emergency crews scrambled to stabilize the mountainside in the scenic Nærøydalen (Nærøy valley) that runs down from the famed Stalheim Hotel to the fjord. Hals said they doused the slopes with water from a helicopter to jar loose any other unstable rocks or soil still at risk for plummeting to the road below. The work ended Wednesday afternoon and highway crews surveyed the area through the night without spotting any new slides.
“The new evaluation from the geologists indicates the area is now stable, but extra monitoring will continue during the road clearance work to secure the safety of the workers,” Hals said. “We’ll keep working as long as it’s light.” That means long workdays since there are only a few hours of darkness at this time of year.
Statens vegvesen was urging motorists to drive carefully through the detours set up in the immediate area, while east-west traffic was diverted to other highways including RV7 over Hardanger, E134 over Haukelifjell and RV13 over Vikafjellet. Updated information would also be available on Statens vegvesens own website (external link).
PHOTOS: Opedal Drift As/Roy Viktor Ohnstad