The threat of the mountain above the small village of Brienz in Switzerland has been facing for centuries.
But state geologists and engineers warned Tuesday that parts of the mountain are dangerously close to collapse. And approximately 85 people living in Brienz and in the path of a possible landslide or mountain collapse were told to evacuate on Friday night.
Geological engineers began monitoring the mountain’s situation closely in 2017. In recent weeks, they have seen the rapid movement of more than 70 million cubic feet of dirt and rocks that make up parts of mountain that can fall.
“This is obviously a difficult situation, but we are prepared and trained for it,” Peter Beyer, the region’s governor, told affected villagers at a hastily organized community event on Tuesday night. “Though we hope that what we are training for will never happen.”
Although scientists say the mountain could slide at any time, they cannot fully predict what will happen, Stefan Schneider, one of the engineers in charge of the rock slide monitoring efforts, told the community on Tuesday night.
The most likely scenario is a rock slide, with rocks falling down the slopes but stopping before they hit the village. Another possibility is the entire mountainside coming down in a long stream like “viscous honey,” Mr. Schneider.
But the most dangerous consequence, he said, is the descent of the mountainside in a quick event, which could wipe out the houses and churches of the village. Some buildings have stood in this area for centuries. Mr. Schneider says this is the least likely outcome.
Unlike many natural disasters in Europe these days, this one is not directly linked to climate change, city officials said. The mountainside has slowed down a bit over the years, but has picked up speed recently.
However, the village administrators believe that the danger is only temporary and once the mountain is moved, the village will remain in tact. They are asking residents to take only items that cannot be replaced by insurance – such as photo albums or heirlooms – and prepare for weeks or months away from their homes.
A resident, Renato Liesch, wanted a quick result, so he prayed for rain.
The rain, he said, would make the mountain come down faster, so he could return home.
He packed his tools, his wood sculptures, the stamps he collected as a child and the antlers that reminded him of his most successful hunting adventures, and he was ready to make the temporary move. in his small hunting hut to avoid harm. .
Last week, the municipality, which has been updating residents about the situation for years, posted a list of relocation companies available to residents. But no one took advantage of the list until the evacuation was announced on Tuesday, said Christian Gartmann, who spoke for the municipality of Albula, which covers Brienz and six other villages.
Of Brienz’s 85 official residents, 60 live there year-round. (Because of its bucolic charm, the population of the village swells during the holidays.) The village works with neighboring towns to find private accommodation nearby.
“No one should sleep in a hotel or a gym,” said Mr. Gartman, adding: “That doesn’t exist with us.”
Inside the medieval church of St. Calixtus, a 500-year-old altar was evacuated.
“It sounds easier than it is,” said Simon Berger, who is with the canton’s cultural heritage authority. Preparations for possible evacuations took months, but the authorities wanted to leave the altar of the church until the end. “We left it there as much as possible out of consideration for the locals” Mr. Berger said.
Mr. Liesch, who grew up in Brienz, says that for most of his life, the fact that the village was under threat was not a big deal to him. “We always knew subconsciously that this was a dangerous situation,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. Still, he said, he never expected to be evacuated.
Now that the time has apparently come, he hopes that his house will be saved. But he admitted that the result was out of his hands.
“It’s like a tornado, it goes where it wants, whether you’re in its path or not,” said Mr. Liesch. “Like the stones that are rolled down that mountain: If they land on the wicked, they will destroy my house.”