High in the Swiss Alps, the picturesque scenery of a small town can also be your downfall.
By nightfall on Friday, Brienz’s more than 100 residents must evacuate their homes, or risk being crushed by 70 million cubic feet of rock. A large section of the Lenzerhorn mountain, which looms over the village’s red terracotta roofs and rustic green shutters, could be on the verge of collapsing as soon as next week, authorities have warned.
“The mood in the town is very sad,” Elisabeth Arpagaus, 85, who has lived here for more than half a century, told NBC News. “The townspeople are being torn apart.”
Perched on the mountainside at an altitude of 3,800 feet, Brienz’s geological situation is not new.
The town 15 miles from Davos has been sliding down the valley probably since the last ice age 11,000 years ago, according to the local government website. In more modern times, climate change is putting Switzerland and other countries at greater risk of natural disasters, as higher temperatures increase erosion, officials say.
What geologists are concerned about now is a 70-million-cubic-foot «island» of rock above the town that has «accelerated significantly» since the fall, Christian Gartmann, the region’s crisis manager, wrote on his website on Thursday. last month.
On Tuesday, this move prompted officials to move into the «orange phase,» meaning a rockfall or mudslide is expected within one to three weeks. All residents and small animals must be gone by 6 pm Friday (noon ET), and will only be given temporary daytime access to return.
That will shift to the red phase once collapse is believed to be within 3-10 days, which will require destocking and a ban on any re-entry. The final warning, the blue phase, means that collapse is imminent.
“I’m very sad that I had to leave,” Arpagaus said with a sigh, recalling the “beautiful view” from her home that she says she misses so much now and could soon be lost forever.
The mother of five lived alone, but said residents gathered regularly to attend hiking groups, women’s clubs and other gatherings.
“We knew something could happen one day,” he said, describing occasional rockfalls over the years. «But now that it’s so imminent it makes it difficult.»
The most likely scenario, with a 60% chance, is a series of rockfalls causing damage to the upper edge of the village, Gartmann wrote. There is a 30% chance that a slow landslide will move three to six feet a day and cause «significant damage» if it hits the village, she said.
Least likely but most devastating would be a «major rockfall» causing «very severe» damage to and around the village, Gartmann said, giving this scenario a 10% probability.
The outcome «cannot be predicted until the last moment,» he said.
Residents stay up to date with text messages, emails, and tweets. If officials believe a «quick» evacuation is needed, alarm bells would ring across the valley, Brienz’s website said.
Switzerland’s main insurance companies have said they will cover the damage, although residents will have to partly finance their temporary relocations, the town’s website said.
For many, however, this is not about money. Their close-knit community is now scattered across the region in temporary accommodation, where they may have to stay for weeks or months, depending on how long the emergency lasts.
«There’s nothing you can do, you have to get through this and I’m a strong woman,» Arpagaus said. “Everyone is thinking of us,” she added, referring to the extensive news coverage.
However, before his hometown is crushed with rocks or buried entirely, there is something that needs to go back. for the Friday before they close the city.
«I’ll be back one more time today» she said, «to pick up a frying pan.»