Three avalanches fell near the village of Flateyri in the Westfjords on Friday, RÚV reports. Luckily, all three took place away from residential areas. The Icelandic Met Office issued a red alert for avalanches in the area on Saturday and orange alerts for Sunday and Monday.
The smallest of the reported avalanches occurred in the Ytra Bæjargil ravine; the other two were of medium size and took place in two ravines not far away. The Met Office also recorded four very small avalanches elsewhere in the area before noon on Saturday. These took place in Seljadalur valley (near, but outside of, the village of Bolungarvík), Rauðagil ravine (near Ólafsfjörður – two occurrences), and Oddsskarður ski area near Eskifjörður.
Avalanches are not an uncommon occurrence in the Westfjords and Flateyri, in particular, has a tragic history with them. Just this January, two large avalanches fell on the town, flowing over two protective barriers that were built to prevent just such an occurrence. The slides incurred property damage and completely destroyed the town’s small harbour, but thankfully, no one was seriously injured.
This was unfortunately not the case in the case of the avalanche that fell on the town in the early hours of October 26, 1995. Forty-five people were buried by the immense wave of the snow. Twenty-one individuals managed to dig their own way out and four were saved by rescue services, but 20 people – ten men, six women and four children – lost their lives in the event.
The January avalanches in Flateyri ignited criticisms of the government’s allocations of funds from the Landslide Fund to be used for avalanche protection throughout the country. Former Ísafjörður mayor Halldór Halldórsson estimated that the fund has roughly ISK 23 billion ($1.8 million/€1.66 million), which could be used to improve avalanche protection throughout the country.
According to Halldór, plans were initially drawn in the early 2000s that called for the completion of avalanche mitigation measures by 2010. Later regulation pushed this deadline to 2020; current plans assume that the measures won’t be finalised until 2050.