Avalanches, bad weather isolates Arctic community, Norway

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The municipality of Berlevåg, in Norway’s Lapland (Finnmark) has been experiencing problems of food deliveries and transport for six consecutive days. An avalanche and heavy snowing blocked the county road leading to the village on Friday, March 23, 2018. In addition, the ship from Hurtigruten cruise lines has had problems to dock due to bad weather conditions. On March 26, The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate issued nationwide avalanche warnings due to the huge amounts of snow in the mountains and suddenly shifting temperatures.

Since Friday, the only road leading to Berlevåg, county road 890, has been largely closed due to the danger of avalanche. It was managed to be opened for short periods of time on Sunday and Monday by Norwegian Public Roads Administration. On Tuesday evening, a Hurtigruten ship was allowed to dock in the village, which was empty of food supplies like vegetables and milk. The avalanche danger level remains high, level 4 on many parts in  Norway’s Lapland (Finnmark).

“I do not think anyone can remember that we have been isolated for so long. We have experienced one day, but never a whole week,” says Joan Vang Nilsen, a storekeeper in Berlevåg.

Their Easter delivery came last Wednesday, on March 21. The store did not get the scheduled delivery Friday or Monday.

“We sold the last pack of milk on Saturday morning. We have been completely empty of fruits, vegetables and milk since. It has been empty, we have not had one single potato,” she says.

People have bought the items with a smile and shown understanding to the shopkeepers. Some have switched to alternatives like dry-freezers, while others have been creative. “Those who have not gotten milk have mixed a little skim milk and cream,” she laughs.

The inhabitants of Berlevåg have seemed to take the situation with a smile. “We feel quite isolated at times, especially when Hurtigruta is not allowed and flights are canceled. But we can manage anyway,” says Anfrid Hojem.

Bad weather has brought problems on the sea as well.

“We did not have the opportunity to dock Berlevåg on Monday because of heavy winds and high seas, but otherwise we are on a schedule,” according to Benedicte Loennechen, press officer of Hurtigruten cruises.

On Tuesday evening the road was managed to keep open for a couple of hours, and the ship got docked just before midnight, so the shop got filled with goods.

“The conditions are good. That’s what we call a regular day on the coast of Finnmark,” says Mayor Rolf Laupstad, adding humor to the situation. Although the situation is frustrating, he is pleased that the road safety is the first priority by authorities and they choose to keep the road closed now as the avalanche danger is high.

According to the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, working on opening the road, they will assess the situation on Wednesday afternoon, but the road will probably not be opened until late evening. Authorities will be using helicopter aid to open the road and ease the avalanche situation.

“There is a helicopter coming from Tana with a Daisybell which will hopefully help with the avalanches. Then we can clean up and open the road,” says Roy Tore Andersen, general manager of Berlevåg Machine, which does the snow plowing work in the area.

The Daisybell is a device under the helicopter, which creates controlled explosions with the help of hydrogen and oxygen. The pressure from the explosion can trigger avalanches and detach thick heavy snow.

“We are waiting for what is happening on Wednesday. The weather is turning better now, it has been bad until this morning, says Andersen.

Featured image credit: Simon Polo

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