Three Large Avalanches Sweep Through Westfjords Skip to content

Three Large Avalanches Sweep Through Westfjords

By Ragnar Tómas

Photo: Golli.

Three large avalanches fell in quick succession in the Westfjords of Iceland just before midnight yesterday, RÚV reports. Two fell in Flateyri and one in Súgandafjörður directly across from Suðureyri, the latter of which caused a tidal wave that struck the town. Although no one was seriously injured, properties were damaged and residents were understandably frightened.

Rescued by ICE-SAR

A teenage girl was rescued from the avalanche in Flateyri by ICE-SAR. The girl escaped without serious injury, although she had been trapped for half an hour, the avalanche having fallen on a part of her home. Her siblings, a five-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy, managed to escape from the house with their mother by climbing through a window. The coast guard ship Þór transported the girl and her relatives to Ísafjörður. The girl’s condition is good, given the circumstances.

A reporter for RÚV spoke to the girl’s doctor this morning, who stated that she was both cold and tired:

“Her room was filled with snow. Thick snow. Like concrete. Fortunately, rescuers worked quickly to shovel the snow and help her escape. The girl’s mother knew exactly where she was … there was a nurse in Flateryi, very experienced, who warmed the girl.”

Small-boat harbour destroyed

The second avalanche that fell on Flateyri caused considerable damage to the harbour. Magnús Einar Manússon, director of ICE-SAR in Flateyri, described the damage in an interview with Vísir:

“The small boat harbour is gone. All of the boats have sunk. We estimate that seven boats have sunk or are half-submerged by the harbour,” he stated.

Gísli Jón Kristjánsson, the owner of Alda ÍS, the only vessel that was not destroyed on the Flateyri harbour, told RÚV that the avalanche had obviously been quite powerful:

“The entire fleet is gone and so is the floating dock. It must have been quite the blow; there’s a lot of snow on the harbour. It’s a catastrophe.”

An orange weather alert is still in effect for parts of the Westfjords. Roads leading in and out of Ísafjörður are impassable. No flights will depart from the Ísafjörður Airport today. Travellers in the area are encouraged to monitor conditions on Safetravel.

Disaster Relief

Flateyri residents reacted quickly to the avalanche but were quite taken aback; 25 years ago, on October 26, 20 people died when a comparable avalanche struck the town. Protective walls that were erected following the avalanche in 1995 appeared to have prevented the avalanches from causing further damage. The walls were not, however, designed to protect the harbour.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir spoke to RÚV this morning:

“I think all of us are startled. I took the time this morning, as soon as I heard the news, to contact a few residents in the Westfjords. Everyone is, of course, quite startled, recalling the events of 1995, which are still fresh in our memory.”

The Icelandic Red Cross has opened disaster relief centres in Flateyri, Suðureyri, and Ísafjörður, offering relief to residents who have been asked to evacuate due to avalanche warnings. 45 individuals are currently seeking refuge in Ísafjörður and nine in Suðureyri. The centre in Flateyri will open at 1 pm today. According to Helena Skaptason Jónsdóttir, a psychologist with the Icelandic Red Cross, crisis counsellours will be assisting residents throughout the day.

Tidal Wave

The tidal wave caused by the avalanche in Súgandafjörður did not cause significant damage to the town of Suðureyri. Ocean water flooded a single house and encroached on a nearby road.

This article will be updated.

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