In the small Swiss village of Brienz in Graubünden, 500,000 cubic meters of a gigantic rock mass threatens to crash. Within one to three weeks, the mass should break down. Residents must leave the village before Friday.
Villagers are not surprised, because the cozy spot has long been seen as a risk zone. For example, they have become accustomed to boulders that roll down from the masses, with a total size of two million meters. Geologists warned that rock movement has accelerated. Part of the rock wall slips 32 meters every year.
“We are used to the rocks, but now that you see the photos and hear the geologists, you get scared,” a resident told Swiss broadcaster SRF. A few days ago, experts still thought that it would take a long time for the mass to crash, so this would only take place in two to six weeks. Yet everyone has to leave the village now, with only a few days to pack.
The mayor of Brienz, Daniel Albertin, tells that the inhabitants have known for six years that this day is coming. He doesn’t know where to go yet. “Today we have arranged 38 apartments. Thirty apartments are in the immediate vicinity,” he explains. He assumes that everyone will have a roof over their heads.
How the rocks will slide is not yet clear. They can come down gradually or it can go fast and destroy Brienz completely. This uncertainty is difficult for many residents to bear. “The worst is the unknown, so you can’t plan anything” says farmer Georgin Bonifazi. There will be checks and video surveillance to prevent looting.
Resistance is less
“The damage is difficult to predict, because a small difference already has major consequences,” explains earth scientist Rens van Beek. The village is located on a fairly steep slope and had already suffered a lot of damage. The rocks are very loose, which is not unusual for the Alps, says Van Beek. Support at the bottom reduces, causing the rocks to loosen faster. “That balance is now uneven and the resistance has become less.” Every day the rock wall comes loose a little faster. At some point this will be meters per second. You can hardly predict how big the acceleration will be, because every small difference counts.
The villagers hope to be able to return to their homes, but it remains to be seen what condition they will find their homes in later.
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