Foreign Affairs

A menacing din comes from the mountain

Switzerland, two million cubic meters of rock on the verge of collapse: the country must be evacuated

"We don't know if our village of Brienz will still exist in 14 days"


Swiss authorities have ordered the evacuation of the inhabitants of Brienz, a small town in the canton of Graubünden.

According to geologists, a mass of two million cubic meters of rock could break off at any time and bury the village.

The mountain, experts say, has been moving steadily since the last ice age but in recent times measurements have indicated a "strong acceleration".

"In recent weeks the rockfall has become much more intense" and the weather conditions further favor the sliding of part of the mountain.

Boulders of considerable size fell on the meadow above the village while an ominous din came from the mountain.

The old village straddles the German- and Romansh-speaking areas of the Eastern Graubünden region, southwest of Davos, at an altitude of about 1,150 meters and today has less than 100 inhabitants.

Over the last century, Brienz itself has moved a few inches each year, but the movement has accelerated over the past 20 years.

Among the various scenarios, the possibility of a sudden and large landslide with catastrophic consequences is the least likely, but cannot be excluded.

Christian Gartmann, who sits on the crisis management committee of the town of Albula, of which Brienz is a fraction, said there was a 60 percent chance that the rock would crumble in such a way that the consequences for the country would be contained.

The landslide, which has moved about a meter per year, could also move slowly. But there is also a 10% chance that the entire mass of two million cubic meters could come off causing a disaster.

According to Gartmann, the melting of glaciers has affected the precariousness of rocks over millennia, but that due to "man-made" climate change in recent decades is not a determining factor.

After discarding the hypothesis of a controlled explosion of the wall - too dangerous because it would have required a drilling of the rock - or the construction of a huge containment barrier - the "wall" should have been at least 70 meters high to protect the village - the authorities decided to evacuate the inhabitants by Friday.

"I wanted to come once again to say goodbye to my parents' house. We don't know if our village of Brienz will still exist in 14 days," Anna Bergamin, a woman who grew up in this mountain village but now lives on the valley floor, said in an interview with Keystone-ATS.