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Rescuers in Norway lose hope of finding landslide survivors

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 5, 2021

By Jan M. Olsen Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Norwegian authorities said Tuesday they have given up hope of finding survivors of a landslide that swept away homes in a residential area almost a week ago, killing seven people.

Three people are still missing from the Dec. 30 disaster that destroyed at least nine buildings with more than 30 apartments in the village of Ask, located 16 miles northeast of Oslo. The landslide was among the worst in modern Norwegian history.

“It is with great sadness that I must say that we no longer have any hope of finding people alive after the landslide” local police chief Ida Melbo Oeystese said.

“We have done everything in our power. But this natural disaster had significant forces. Those who died have died relatively quickly,” she added, visibly moved.

Search crews will continue “working to find everyone who is missing,” Oeystese said.

The police chief spoke hours after a small dog was found alive in the rubble, raising hopes for rescuers. The dog was found late Monday “in good condition” in an area where rescuers had been working, police spokesman Ivar Myrboe said.

Another, smaller landslide just before midday Tuesday forced the search terms to evacuate the site and no one was injured, police said. One rescuer, Kenneth Wangen, said the landslide was “not dramatic” and that search terms received advance warning by drones and from other emergency personnel.

Geologists will assess the site before the search continues, authorities said.

Since the original landslide, search teams with dogs have been looking through the rubble in below-freezing temperatures while helicopters and drones with heat-detecting cameras flew over the ravaged hillside in the village of 5,000 residents.

At least 1,000 people were evacuated. Some buildings are hanging on the edge of a deep ravine, which grew to be 2,300 feet long and 1,000 feet wide.

The exact cause of the landslide isn’t known, but the area has a lot of quick clay, which can rapidly change from solid to liquid form when it is disturbed. Experts said the quick clay, combined with excessive precipitation and damp winter weather, may have contributed to the landslide.

In 2005, Norwegian authorities warned people not to construct residential buildings in the Ask area, saying it was “a high-risk zone” for landslides, but houses were built there later in the decade.

A landslide in central Norway in 1893 killed 116 people. It was reportedly up to 40 times bigger that the one in Ask, where somewhere between 1.4 million and 2 million cubic meters of land tumbled down.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said she received the news about the abandoned search for survivors “with great sadness” and that her thoughts were with the friends and families of the victims.

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