UPDATED: After a week of extreme weather and widespread flooding in Southern Norway, state officials could finally announce that water levels were receding during the weekend. They were still worried about more rain, though, and damage claims kept rising.
More than 4,000 people remained under evacuation orders, most major train lines were still shut down and dozens of roads and highways are closed all over the region. Insurance companies reported on Monday that around 7,000 damage claims have been registered so far, amounting to an estimated NOK 1.6 billion just for building structures, their contents and property. In addition come all the claims for cars, camping vans and other vehicles that are still pouring in.
The mayor of Norway’s sprawling Innlandet County, Aud Hove of the Center Party, described it as “a crisis situation of national dimensions,” even before the torrential rains earlier in the week gave way to landslides and massive flooding. She told state broadcaster NRK that several areas were isolated by floods and landslides, making it difficult for emergency services to get through.
The aftermath of the extreme weather system called “Hans” was still shutting down rail service, including Dovrebanen, Gardermobanen, Bergensbanen and Gjøvikbanen. Raumabanen opened Friday for cargo but not passenger service. Rørosbanen through Østerdalen reopened on Saturday. Flooding was also forcing closure of 60 roads at 110 spots in Innlandet alone, and officials were warning both residents and tourists to refrain from driving.
“We understand that many property owners are worried and want to inspect holiday homes after the extreme weather,” said Lars Aune, chief of staff at the state police directorate, “but we want to avoid unnecessary burdens on vulnerable roads and detours.”
The heavy rain, landslides and flooding have hit the transport sector hard. Cargo usually shipped by rail had to be transferred to trucks that then also came to a standstill. Cargo including post was piling up at cargo terminals in Oslo and elsewhere, as connections between major cities and habours were cut.
The state agency in charge of Norway’s waterways, NVE, reported early Saturday afternoon that flooding is believed have peaked through most of the rivers and creeks in the waterway known as Drammensvassdraget, in the mountains of Southern Norway. Water levels in some of the lakes where it empties, including Krøderen, Sperillen and Randsfjorden, were beginning to decline, but were still rising in Tyrifjorden, Storelva through Hønefoss and at Mjøndalen bru, upriver from the city of Drammen itself. Drammenselva, the river that empties into the fjord at Drammen, was wider than can ever be remembered, forcing evacuation of homes along its path in Hokksund, Vikersund and several other areas.
The city of Hønefoss, located at the confluence of various rivers and creeks, was being hit especially hard. The famous foss (waterfall) through its historic center was raging out of control, forcing closure of the city bridge running over it. More than 1,600 residents were evacuated plus hundreds of others in the surrounding area.
Waters were also still rising in Norway’s biggest lake, Mjøsa, between Lillehammer and Hamar, and in the large lake Øyeren east of Oslo. Residents along the banks of both lakes and the Glomma and Lågen rivers feeding them were trying to secure their property before being ordered to evacuate. Neighbourhoods in Gjøvik were threatened and those living along Øyeren were emptying their homes of valuables as they readied for evacuation. At least another 54 homes in Ringerike along the Tyrifjorden were being evacuated Saturday morning.
As everything from camping vans to hay balls bobbed along the surface of Mjøsa after being washed downstream from flooded campgrounds and farms, officials were also facing huge pollution problems. NRK reported Saturday that untreated sewage was leaking into Mjøsa and the river Gudbrandsdalslågen, prompting warnings against any swimming. Officials urged everyone to stay away from the lake and rivers, also their pets. Drinking water remained safe, since it comes from groundwater sources, not local lakes or rivers.
Not everyone was happy with the official response to the emergency, with residents of Øyeren complaining that they’d heard nothing from their local municipality, Lillestrøm, and local officials themselves claiming they needed more help from the state. Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl responded by sending out seven more helicopters on Friday. Others called for more help from civil defense forces.
Members of the Royal Family began turning up by the end of the week to express sympathy, praise response crews and offer encouragement to those affected. “I hadn’t believed it would be as bad as it is,” King Harald V told local officials and a few residents in Mjøndalen, “but this is serious.” His son, Crown Prince Haakon, was dispatched to Hønefoss and the Klækken Hotel, which has been turned into an evacuation center.
“This is quite a job that has to be done,” the crown prince told those in charge, while, like his father, thanking those helping out. He also chatted with some of the evacuees, including Anne Karin Rossland who was celebrating her 76th birthday on Saturday.
“Congratulations,” Crown Prince Haakon told her, “even though this isn’t the way you’d thought to celebrate.”