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Massive rockslide just misses Swiss village

BRIENZ, SWITZERLAND (AFP) – A Swiss village came within a hair’s breadth of being wiped off the map when a mountain towering above it collapsed overnight, officials said on Friday.

The massive rockslide missed Brienz in the east of the country, “by a hair”, they said.

The rockslide had been expected. The village was emptied of its 84 inhabitants on May 12 after the authorities said the Insel peak had become unstable.

A large part of the Insel finally collapsed before midnight Thursday, sending more than 1.5 million tonnes of rock crashing down in the darkness. Early Friday morning, the local authorities inspected the damage, and let out a sigh of relief.

“There is no indication of damage in the village, with the rock mass having stopped just in front of the village,” they said in a statement. A metre-high wall of mud and rock came to a halt just in front of the village school. Some 1.5 to 1.9 million cubic metres of rock came loose, according to a geologist Stefan Schneider who heads the early warning service in Graubunden canton. He told journalists on Friday that the rocks had felled trees as if they were matches, and had destroyed a small cabin in a field above the village.

But there was no longer a major risk that a major rockslide could destroy the village, he said.

After the rockslide, authorities lifted the highest alert level around midday Friday, making it once again possible to reach villages neighbouring Brienz by train or road. But Brienz’s own inhabitants, who have been in temporary accommodation, will need to wait a bit longer before returning home.

“The village’s security is not guaranteed,” the Graubunden cantonal geologist Andreas Huwiler told reporters.

A view of Brienz, far-eastern Switzerland after a massive landslide that spared the village. PHOTO: AFP