Stragglers packed up belongings in cars, trucks and a least one pickup truck before a looming deadline on Friday to evacuate a village in eastern Switzerland that is facing an urgent rockslide threat.
About 2 million cubic meters of rock on an Alpine mountainside overhead could soon come crashing down.
As geologists and other experts in fluorescent vests took measurements on Friday, villagers and vacationers bared their emotion that the centuries-old Alpine village of Brienz — home to under 100 residents — could be soon be subsumed under spilling rock.
The rumble of shifting ground and the sporadic crackle of a few rocks colliding and sliding down underscored the rising urgency for locals to get out of town by a 6 p.m. deadline set by Swiss authorities.
One woman loaded up a pickup truck with a caged turtle and other belongings as neighbors packed up cars and trucks too.
A Zurich woman who has for years vacationed in bucolic, calm Brienz, stood back about100 feet from a last barrier on the edge of the village to look up worryingly at the mountainside. She asked not to be quoted by a reporter.
At a local town hall meeting on Tuesday, authorities ordered the evacuation and said people wouldn’t be allowed to remain overnight after Friday, though they could return from time to time starting Saturday, depending on the risk level.
The centuries-old village straddles German- and Romansch-speaking parts of the eastern Graubunden region, sitting southwest of Davos at an altitude of about 3,800 feet.
The mountain and the rocks on it have been moving since the last Ice Age, local officials say. But they issued a statement on Tuesday saying measurements indicated a “strong acceleration over a large area” in recent days, and “up to 2 million cubic meters of rock material will collapse or slide in the coming seven to 24 days.”
Christian Gartmann, a member of the crisis management board in the town of Albula, which counts Brienz in its municipality, said experts estimate there’s a 60% chance that the rock will fall in smaller chunks, which may not reach the village or the valley. The landslide could also move slowly.
But there’s also a 10% chance that the 2-million-cubic meter mass may spill down, threatening lives, property and the village itself, he said.
Gartmann said that glacier melt had affected the precariousness of the rocks over millennia, but melting glaciers due to “man-made” climate change in recent decades wasn’t a factor.