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‘It could have been much worse’: Mountain collapse passes Swiss village

After decades of threatening to tear and collapse down the slope, wiping out houses below, the mountainside near the village of Brienz in central Switzerland has finally collapsed. Geologists predicted in May that the dreaded landslide was imminent, and authorities evacuated the village’s approximately 85 residents. On Friday, the experts were right: part of the mountain gave way.

Well, partly right, at least. Fortunately for the inhabitants of Brienz, the announced erasure of their village was narrowly avoided. The approximately 50 million cubic feet of rock and debris that were torn off stopped just before the village, coming to rest a few meters from the first building facing the slopes: the school. The only structure caught in the fall was a small shed a little further from the village.

“The most beautiful part is – what we didn’t really expect – that it fell without damaging the village,” said Christian Gartmann, spokesman for the Albula district, which includes Brienz.

Residents of surrounding villages said they heard the rolling of rocks and debris Thursday between 11 p.m. and midnight, but it was not until the morning that the landslide could be assessed. There had been indications that fracturing was accelerating, with geological probes that had been installed to monitor the mountainside recording a significant increase in the volume of collapsing rock.

Early estimates suggest that two-thirds to three-quarters of the part of the mountain that geologists said was at risk had fallen towards Brienz. On Friday, geologists flew over the area to assess the situation. Additional surveys will be carried out with drones and ground-based measurement equipment.

Depending on what geologists find, the result could be good news for the villagers. When they were evacuated, most would have feared that the collapse of the mountain would obliterate their homes.

If experts decide the mountain no longer poses a danger to residents, they will be allowed to return, Gartmann said, noting that “the chances of that happening again are very good.”

An evacuee resident of Brienz, Renato Liesch, traveled to the area to see for himself the damage caused by the landslide. “When you see how much he’s done down the hill, it’s just massive,” he said in a phone interview.

Mr Liesch said he was relieved that the collapse had finally happened, but expressed concern that parts of the mountain left behind could still dislodge.

“At this point, I’m not sure we’ll be able to come back until next spring,” he said. Nevertheless, he acknowledged: “It could have been much worse.”

nytimes Eur

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