Royals meet slide survivors in grief

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UPDATED: Norway’s King Harald V, Queen Sonja and Crown Prince Haakon all traveled to Gjerdrum on Sunday, to meet with survivors of last week’s devastating landslide as reports of fatalities were streaming in. Search and rescue crews had kept working to find more survivors, but hopes were fading Sunday evening.

King Harald, Queen Sonja and Crown Prince Haakon all visited survivors of what’s been called the “catastrophic” landslide in Gjerdrum. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Sven Gjeruldsen

“We have an extremely emotional day behind us,” King Harald told reporters after meeting many of those who’ve been evacuated from the slide area, those who’ve lost loved ones, local officials and representatives of the massive emergency reponse teams.

“I have problems finding things to say, because this is just terrible,” the monarch said. The first casualty was confirmed on Friday, after Wednesday’s pre-dawn landslide had stablized enough to allow search crews to start going through the remains of homes swept off their foundations when the clay-like ground under them suddenly gave way.

More bodies were found on Saturday and by Sunday evening, seven of the 10 missing after the landslide had been confirmed dead. Search and rescue efforts were due to continue through the night.

Survivors in ‘a very difficult situation’
The royals, all of them wearing facemasks as the Corona virus crisis also continued, met first with local officials in Gjerdrum and those coordinating the emergency response. “We received very good insight into the work that’s been going on and it’s very impressive,” Queen Sonja told reporters after being briefed on the police and military’s use of helicopters, drones and specially trained dogs in the search for survivors.

The queen, clearly choked up after hearing survivors’s stories, added that “this little community of 7,000 people has a warm heart that we have experienced very strongly today. The willingness to keep searching, all the help and the compassion has been evident among everyone we’ve met today.” She said it was important to note that they are not alone in their sorrow and loss: “The entire country is touched by this.”

This aerial photo of the slide area was released by the Norwegian waterways agency NVE, showing the devastation that spreads over an area nearly a kilometer long and 300 meters wide. PHOTO: NVE/Jaran Wasrud

The slide has so far destroyed 31 residences along with garages and all the infrastructure in their neighbourhood. The royal couple lit candles at the local church, to honour lives lost and those in mourning, before traveling on to local hotels where many of the evacuees who fled the slide in their pajamas are being housed.

“Those affected by this are in a very difficult situation,” said Crown Prince Haakon after visiting with survivors at the Clarion Hotel adjacent to Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen. He also met with family members and relatives of those now confirmed dead and those still missing. That latter number had declined to three by Sunday evening.

Listened to ‘dramatic’ stories from survivors
“They have dramatic stories to tell, and it made an enormous impression,” the crown prince said. “It’s also painful to learn just how horrible things are for them now. There are very many people keen to help those affected.”

King Harald and Queen Sonja visited the nearby Olavsgaard Hotel where many other survivors are being housed, and also listened to their stories as they offered sympathy. Many have lost everything they owned, in addition to loved ones. Victims now being publicly identified include men, women and, in one case, a two-year-old girl who was ill and whose mother was tending to her when their home collapsed.

“We plan to keep searching this evening and through the night, because we still have four people missing,” police operations leader Bjørn Christian Willersrud said at a press conference Sunday afternoon. Police are also still calling it a “rescue operation” as they maintained hopes of finding survivors in the ruins of their homes. Police have also managed to rescue many cats and dogs who became separated from their owners during the slide chaos.

Much of the small town of Ask in Gjerdrum remains under evacuation orders, including the local school and day care center. Teachers will be showing up at the evacuees’ hotels on Monday, where rooms will be set aside for teaching children. Around 1,000 residents remained under evacuation orders.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund