Police still couldn’t account for at least 30 people in the mountain community of Jølster in Sogn og Fjordane by midday, after heavy rains unleashed landslides in the area Tuesday evening. The main E39 highway remained closed as well, and mobile phone coverage was knocked out.
“We have to go in with geologists now and launch a new search where it’s safe,” local sheriff Dag Fiske told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) late Wednesday morning. Authorities also need to confirm whether any cars or people were swept into the large lake Jolstravatnet.
Witnesses reported seeing a car disappear into the lake, and at least one person was observed in the water. There have been no reports of anyone missing, however, and neither air ambulances, a search and rescue helicopter nor boats sent to the area could find any signs of casualties. Stein Rune Halleraker, operations leader for the West Police District, said the searches would continue.
Sudden heavy rain set off the landslides and flooding around Forde and at Svidalsneset on the northern shore of Jølstravatnet. Vassenden, on the southeast corner of the lake, was hit hardest, with one large slide crashing down the steep mountainside between homes, and sending debris into the scenic lake that quickly turned brown. One resident told NRK he’d “never been so scared or run so fast” in his life, when he feared his house would be swept away.
(See photos sent in to NRK’s online edition here.)
The area is also popular area with tourists, and several were stranded in their vehicles after roads were cut off both behind them and in front of them. NRK reported that several people had to spend the night in the bus in which they were riding.
The E39 highway was closed between Førde and Skei, with detours set up along RV5 through Sogndalsdalen and FV55 between Sogndal and Balestrand via the ferry between Dragsvik and Hella.
“There have been several mud, and rockslides and we don’t have an overview of how many, or how many people are affected,” Halleraker said. “Many people have evacuated themselves, and we’ve had calls that relatives can’t get in touch with their families, but that can be because most of the phone coverage is down. As of now we have no reports of any injuries but there’s a lot of damage.”