Norway’s Easter holidays got off to a tragic start in the northern county of Troms, after several avalanches killed four people and injured others. Two were local residents whose farm buildings were buried or swept into the sea, while two others were ski tourists from abroad who went skiing in steep areas despite avalanche warnings.
Northern Norway has been clobbered with heavy snow, strong winds and shifting temperatures lately, all of which combined to increase the danger of skred (avalanches). Warnings were posted throughout the area and avalanches crashed down in the scenic and popular skiing area of Lyngen, at Storslett in Nordreisa, on the island of Reinøya and at Kåfjord.
All of those in the Kåfjord area were accounted for, but a barn housing nearly 100 animals was destroyed and all the livestock perished. Residents wound up cut off from all roads and were left without power.
On Reinøya, two residents were killed when tons of snow and ice crashed down on their farm. Several buildings were demolished and at least one was swept out to sea, reported officials from the rescue service Redningsselskapet. The nearby village of Grøtnesdalen was evacuated.
Three government ministers flew north to visit the scene on Sunday. “This is a terribly sad beginning to Easter,” Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl told news bureau NTB. She stressed how warnings are issued on a variety of channels, with the government “continually” studying measures “to reduce the risks.”
It was a dramatic weekend over a wide area, with officials repeatedly urging everyone to avoid steep mountainsides. Avalanche warnings were also posted at the highest level heading into the weekend, but a group of five skiers from Italy headed into the scenic and popular area at Lyngen known for its alp-like mountains.
All five ended up being caught in an avalanche that left one dead and one seriously injured. Newspaper VG reported that the other three were rescued by helicopters. In Nordreisa, not far away, yet another tourist was killed while skiing at Storslett.
Skiing in steep areas often sets off avalanches. Nordreisa Mayor Hilde Nyvoll said she can understand that people who’ve traveled from abroad want to head up the mountains, especially when the sun came out. “But with all the warnings that have gone out over all channels, and all the lives that have been lost, it worries me that people still head out into avalanche-prone areas,” Nyvoll told state broadcaster NRK. “More lives will be lost if people don’t respect the strongest warnings that have been issued.”
Police were also asking people to listen to the warnings and advice from professionals. It remains up to each individual to decide whether to venture out skiing when it’s so dangerous. So many avalanches occuring at various locations, some of them possibly set off by skiers, also puts a strain on the emergency response.
“The situation now is especially serious,” Tor Indrevoll, operations leader for the Troms Red Cross’ search and rescue service, told VG. “It’s not often we have to send out so many rescue corps out on the same day.” His colleague Kjersti Løvik at the Red Cross’ Hjelpekorps urged residents and tourists alike against going out on ski treks.
“It’s seldom we give such advice,” Løvik told VG on Saturday, “but right now there’s no doubt that it’s best to stay home in our most northern counties.” Justice Minister Mehl worries that some tourists arrive on boats without their arrivals or whereabouts being registered at either airports or hotels. That can make it difficult to reach them with avalanche warnings.
“We know that Norway is a beautiful country and many want to experience the mountains at Easter,” Mehl told NTB, “but that comes with a risk. It’s very sad that we’ve already lost four lives just as the holidays are starting.”