15 unaccounted for, buildings hang over edge of crater after Norway landslide

Ten people were injured, one of them critically, and 15 people remained unaccounted for after a landslide in southern Norway swept away more than a dozen buildings in the early hours of Wednesday, police said.

The landslide struck a residential area in the municipality of Gjerdrum, some 30 kilometres north of the capital Oslo. Police said some 700 people had been evacuated from the area.

The landslide cut across a road through Ask village, leaving a deep ravine that cars could not pass. Video footage showed dramatic scenes, including one house falling into the ravine. 

Photos of the site showed a large crater with destroyed buildings at the bottom of it. Other buildings hung on the edges of the crater, TV footage showed. Two more houses collapsed into the crater on Wednesday afternoon, broadcaster NRK reported.

“There were two massive tremors that lasted for a long while, and I assumed it was snow being cleared or something like that,” Oeystein Gjerdrum, 68, told NRK.

“Then the power suddenly went out, and a neighbour came to the door and said we needed to evacuate, so I woke up my three grandchildren and told them to get dressed quickly.”

‘A catastrophe’

Helicopters continued to hover over the area as night fell, at times lowering emergency responders toward the debris of collapsed houses. Police said rescue operations would continue through Wednesday night into Thursday.

“It is a catastrophe,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told reporters after visiting the site.

“There could be people trapped … but at the same time we can’t be sure because it is the New Year’s holiday, which means people could be elsewhere,” she said, warning that rescue operations could take a long time.

“This could take days.”

Initial reporting put the number of unaccounted for people at 21. That figure later went down to 15.

Solberg said that the situation is still “so unstable” that it was impossible to do any rescue effort other than from helicopters.

Masses of earth are continuing to move in what has been one of the largest clay slides in recent Norwegian history, Torild Hofshagen, regional head of the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate, told a news conference.

Southern Norway has seen large amounts of precipitation in recent days, which may have caused the clay soil prevalent in the area to shift, NRK said.

The landslide cut across a road through Ask, a small community in southeastern Norway. (Norwegian Rescue Service/NTB/Reuters)

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