Talk about a close call.
The tiny Swiss mountain village of Brienz narrowly avoided being buried in a rockslide Thursday evening, with millions of cubic metres of stone stopping mere inches from houses and other structures.
Brienz, Switzerland was evacuated last month as a safety precaution. Eighty-four residents were told to abandon the village on May 12 over fears it would be buried under the Alpine rocks that were threatening to tumble down from the nearby mountain. At the time, rock movements on the slope were accelerating.
Since then, farmers have been allowed to re-enter for short periods of time to tend to their crops and residents were permitted 90-minute visits to retrieve essential items.
On Friday, authorities from the Albula municipality, which includes Brienz, tweeted that a large part of the mountain broke off in the middle of the night.
Albula spokesperson Christian Gartmann said the huge rockfall had only been heard, not seen, because the mountainside broke free in the middle of the night. But the rocks made a lot of noise, he said.
Large boulders and scree missed the empty hamlet “by a hair,” local authorities said in a statement.
“According to preliminary information, a large part of the (mountain) Insel collapsed rapidly. There is no indication of damage in the village, with the rocks mass [sic] having stopped just in front of the village,” it said.
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Andreas Huwiler, a geologist for canton Graubünden, told local media that the rockfall has piled up to a height of 12 metres in some places.
About two-thirds of the threatening rock — at an initial estimate, somewhere between 1.2 and 1.5 million cubic metres — appears to have come down the slope on Thursday night, geologist Stefan Schneider said at a news conference.
“This is very good news, because the danger … to the village has become much smaller,” he added.
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“We can say that today is one of the best days since the evacuation,” said Daniel Albertin, the head of the local council.
“The wait for the mountain was long. But now the mountain has come down as we envisioned, and … a great deal has come down, but nothing is damaged in the village and no inhabitants were harmed.”
Despite the good news, officials couldn’t yet say when they might be able to end the evacuation — although they said the chances of a permanent return are very high.
“The people of Brienz will still have to be a bit patient before they can move back,” Albertin said. “We have to carry out further evaluations before we can give them enough security to be able to move back to their village and continue living or working there.”
— With files from The Associated Press
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