Veslemannen collapses safely

Locals celebrate as looming threat gives way at long last

Veslemanne

Photo: Torstein Boe / VG
The collapse started high up on the mountainside, with rock falling into two valleys. In the inset photo you can see where a spire once stood that was of particular concern.

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

You might expect the dramatic collapse of a mountain in a popular hiking area of western Norway to create fear among the handful of local residents. Instead, they are breathing a sigh of relief.

Known as Veslemannen (Little Man), the most vulnerable section of the highly unstable mountain Mannen finally collapsed on the evening of Sept. 5. Despite darkness descending upon the Rauma valley, national broadcaster NRK managed to capture much of the rockfall on camera. Such was the impact of the collapse, seismic activity was recorded hundreds of miles away from Rauma in major cities including Trondheim and Bergen.

When daylight returned the following morning, the scale of the collapse soon became clear. Sections of the mountain measuring more than 150 feet were gone, including a spire-shaped formation that had been of particular concern.

The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate has now allowed residents to return, declaring the mountain and the valley floor safe, at least for now. Geologists are now examining the site to discover precisely how much rock fell, and the stability of the remainder.

Living in a lush Norwegian valley surrounded by towering mountains might be many people’s idea of paradise, but for residents of a section of the Rauma valley it’s been a five-year-long nightmare.

Back in 2014, Mannen began to show signs of instability. This has led to frequent evacuations, with some local residents having to leave their homes 16 times in the past five years. The Rauma Line railway and only road through the valley were also frequently closed, disrupting local business and tourism.

It’s no wonder then that local Mayor Lars Olav Hustad was brought to tears on live television when the mountain finally fell. As it became clear a collapse was imminent, he traveled to the site to see it for himself. “It was special to stand there as the mountain roared. This will mean a lot to our community,” he said.

He reflected on the time local and national politicians have used discussing the situation: “I dare not think about how many hours we have spent on this. But the most important thing is that people can move back.”

It’s a sentiment shared by many of the locals. Gunn Walstad Sogge lives in the small settlement Horgheim, and told NRK of her delight: “We are completely, incredibly happy. We have danced a victory dance tonight.”

Much of Norway has enjoyed record temperatures this summer, but western Norway has also experienced periods of intense rainfall. In July, a series of landslides in and around Jølster killed one person and caused significant damage to infrastructure in the remote region.

It was heavy rainfall that triggered the Veslemannen collapse, and politicians are warning that such incidents could soon become the new normal.

“Had Veslemannen fallen in one piece, it could have taken railways, critical infrastructure, and homes along with it,” said Kjell-Borge Freiberg, Norway’s minister for oil and energy. He told The New York Times that the changing climate will likely cause more landslides in the country: “We know this might happen again, even in places that used to be safe.”

This article originally appeared in the September 20, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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