Extreme weather bearing down on Svalbard this week forced the evacuations Tuesday of around 180 residents on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen. Strong winds and even rain were threatening to set off more avalanches on the steep slope behind their homes.
The evacuation order came on the second anniversary of an avalanche in the same area in 2015. It crashed through homes at the base of the mountain known as Sukkertoppen in Svalbard’s main settlement of Longyearbyen, leaving two people dead and several residential buildings destroyed.
A memorial ceremony had been been planned for Tuesday but it was put off for fear of another tragedy. Among those evacuated were neighbours who spontaneously pitched in during the search and rescue operation two years ago.
“We’ve already had a lot of thoughts and recollections this week,” Therese Berger told state broadcaster NRK. “The bad weather and experience two years ago isn’t something we forget.”
Her family was abruptly evacuated Monday night and hopes to be able to return home in time for Christmas. The storm wasn’t quite as bad as predicted Tuesday evening, but not one would be allowed to return to their residences until Wednesday morning at the earliest.