One killed, several injured in Norwegian Arctic avalanche

Search crew work in an area hit by the avalanche in Longyearbyen.
Search crew work in an area hit by the avalanche in Longyearbyen.PHOTO: REUTERS

OSLO (AFP) - One person was killed and nine injured on Saturday after an avalanche buried about 10 houses on the Svalbard archipelago in the heart of the Norwegian Arctic, local officials said.

The governor's office said that a 40-year-old man was killed by the avalanche on the slopes of Mount Sukkertoppen overlooking Longyearbyen, the archipelago's remote capital where coal mining families and polar bears live side-by-side.

A spokesman for the local hospital said that another nine people - four children and five adults - were injured, with two children and an adult listed in serious condition.

The local government initially reported several missing, before announcing Saturday afternoon that everybody was accounted for.

Around 10 brightly-coloured wooden houses, typical of the style found in the archipelago, were buried by the avalanche.

Witnesses said the snow had shifted the houses set on hillsides about 20m.

One resident, Kine Bakkeli, told NRK public television that she had managed to escape through a window.

"It's complete chaos here," she said.

A team of doctors was planning to set out from the Norwegian city of Tromso for Longyearbyen, Svalbard's main town.

Norwegian daily Aftenposten reported that some 40 homes in the area were evacuated in case another avalanche hit.

Emergency accommodation has been set up in a youth centre and the town's church.

Weather conditions have been harsh since Friday with authorities warning people to take care in high winds.

Longyearbyen is the world's most northerly town, situated about half-way between continental Norway and the North Pole.