Switzerland Rockslide Alert 99380 df6fc c0 70 2000 1236 s1200x700

Swiss village evacuated due to threat of 2.6 million cubic-yard rockslide

The tiny village of Brienz in eastern Switzerland had a deadline to evacuate by Friday due to the threat of a 2.6 million cubic-yard rockslide.

Residents were ordered to leave the town by 6 p.m. local time Friday, although they will be allowed to return to the village from time to time depending on the risk level starting Saturday. They will not be allowed to stay overnight.

As of Friday, the alert level, which had been orange on Wednesday, had been raised to red. This means that residents will not be able to return for the foreseeable future.

Glacial melt has accelerated the movement of rocks in the Swiss Alps.

The town’s area, 3,800 feet up, has itself moved a few inches each year since the end of the Ice Age around 11,500 years ago, with the movement accelerating in the past 20 years. The impending landslide has been moving about a yard per year.

Geologists have picked up on a strong acceleration of the rockslide, which could strike at any time in the next four to 21 days. Brienz, which has less than 100 residents, is not to be confused with its larger twin town Brienz in the Bern canton.

The most likely outcome, at around 60%, is that the rock will collapse in smaller chunks that do not reach the village.

However, officials said there is a 10% chance that all 2.6 million cubic yards of rock from the mountain Lenzerhorn could come tumbling down to immure Brienz, making it too great a risk to allow people to stay there.

“We hope that the village stays intact. We can’t eliminate the possibility that it will come down. … It could damage the village or destroy it,” Christian Gartmann, a member of the crisis management board for the Albula municipality that contains Brienz, told the Associated Press.

Alternatives to evacuation were deemed non-viable. A controlled blast would require drilling into the rock, which was deemed too risky. A sand pile or wall to hold back the rocks, meanwhile, would have to be 230 feet high to protect Brienz.

Residents had become used to the thundering cacophony of falling rocks, but the realization that something disastrous could occur has dawned on them.

Elizabeth Arpagaus, 85, a 50-year resident of Brienz, told NBC News that “The mood in the village is very sad. People in the village are being torn apart.”

Brienz is first mentioned in the written record as “Brienzola” in 840, and the town is full of centuries of history — a 500-year-old winged altarpiece, for example, was successfully extricated from the village’s medieval St. Calixtus church.

“These aren’t just buildings. There are emotions and histories here. I’ve seen a lot of tears lately. There’s nothing you can do against nature. But deep in their hearts, there’s hope that they’ll be able to return to the village,” Federico Pelico, the pastor of Albula and Brienz, told the Associated Press.

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