Three avalanches, two in Flateyri in one in Súgandafjörður, across from Suðureyri, struck within very little time of one another around midnight last night, RÚV reports. There were thankfully no injuries, but a teenage girl was trapped for half an hour when her room was filled with snow, later to be rescued. Many small boats and harbour structures in Flateyri were destroyed by the avalanche.
The avalanche at Súgandafjörður was so powerful that it actually caused a flood. Valur S. Valgeirsson, the head of the rescue squad at Suðureyri, told Vísir that the resulting flooding from the harbour caused by the avalanche caused waves some six to ten metres high, pouring over the main street and against several houses. This flood tossed a jeep several meters, shattering its windows. He described residents in the village as being in a state of shock from the incident.
“There isn’t a lot of snow here now, we’ve often seen more snow than this,” he told reporters. “But people were not expecting this [avalanche] at this time.” He added that the incident gave many people bad memories of the Flateyri avalanche of 1995, which claimed 20 lives.
There was fortunately no loss of life in any of these three avalanches, although many boats were destroyed. There was, however, one close call.
One of the avalanches that struck Flateyri also struck part of a house in the village, Vísir reports. Three people were in the house at the time, including a young girl in her early teens. She was buried in the snow of the avalanche for about half an hour, but fast-responding rescue workers were able to dig her out. While she did not sustain any apparent serious injuries, she was taken by boat to Ísafjörður for further examination and treatment.
Part of the reason why so many lives were spared by the avalanches is the extensive use of avalanche breakers across the mountain sides. These barriers help not only reduce the speed of avalanches but also break apart the snow as it falls, thereby helping to reduce the force of its impact.
Regardless of the lack of deaths or serious physical injuries, avalanches are nonetheless traumatic. Crisis workers are reportedly on their way to the area to help comfort residents, many of whom are now in Red Cross shelters. Most people who live in the Westfjords have lived there all their lives, and many of them still have vivid memories of the tragedy of 1995, making last night’s incident all the more traumatising for these people.
Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir reportedly met at around 10:00 this morning to assess the situation.
While the stormy weather which has plagued Iceland, and the northwest in particular, is expected to abate this afternoon, RÚV reports that there is still a danger of more avalanches in the northern Westfjords area.
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