Swiss village evacuated due to risk of falling rocks – NBC 6 South Florida
Latecomers packed their belongings in cars, trucks and at least one pickup truck before an evacuation order went into effect on Friday in a small village in eastern Switzerland threatened by an urgent risk of falling rocks.
As geologists and other fluorescent vest experts took measurements on Friday, villagers and holidaymakers expressed their dismay that the centuries-old Alpine village of Brienz – home to fewer than 100 residents – could soon be engulfed by overflowing rock.
According to Swiss authorities, about 2 million cubic meters of rock could soon collapse on a mountainside in the Alps.
Erosion over generations has left the bare mountainside white, gray and orange with exposed rock and earth, and a few boulders have already found their way to the edge of the village in the green valley. One sat menacingly next to a small wooden hut.
The rumble of moving ground, the sporadic crackle of colliding rocks and the remnants of dead trees and earth sliding down the mountain face on Friday evoked an eerie sense of omen in the village and underscored the growing urgency for locals to get out of town 18:00, deadline set by the authorities.
Earlier this week, authorities upgraded the alert status to ‘orange’, meaning residents had to be evacuated but could also return during the day to collect their belongings, conditions permitting.
On Friday evening, the authorities raised the alert level to “red” – this means that no returns will be permitted in the foreseeable future, said Christian Gartmann, a member of the Albula municipality’s crisis management team, to which Brienz belongs.
A woman loaded a caged pet turtle named Max and other belongings into a pickup truck, while neighbors also packed cars and trucks. Roadblocks blocked the roads and a sign under a portable traffic light read: “Red indicates extreme risk of falling rocks.”
A woman from Zurich who has been vacationing in the idyllic village for years stood about 30 meters (100 feet) from a barrier at the edge of the village and looked up at the mountainside with concern.
Centuries-old Brienz stretches across German- and Romansh-speaking parts of eastern Graubünden and lies southwest of Davos at an altitude of around 1,150 metres.
The mountain and the rocks on it have been moving since the last Ice Age, officials say. But on Tuesday it was said that measurements indicated a “large-scale strong acceleration” in recent days and “up to 2 million cubic meters of rock material will collapse or slide in the next seven to 24 days”.
Gartmann said experts estimate there’s a 60% chance the rock will fall in smaller chunks that don’t reach the village or valley. The landslide could also be moving slowly. However, there is also a 10 percent chance that the boulder will fall, threatening life, property and the village itself.
Glacial melt has impacted rock vulnerability over millennia, but melting glaciers due to “man-made” climate change in recent decades has not been a factor, he said.