COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Rescuers on Thursday evacuated inundated areas of southeastern Norway and residents braced for more landslides and flooding as rivers swollen by days of heavy rain carried large amounts of water through the mountainous landscape.
People living near waterways were moved to safety, taking their belongings from their homes and moving their cars to higher ground. Helicopters were on standby to help move people out of remote areas while volunteers assisted in towns like Hønefossen.
The Begna river, which runs through the town, had gone over its banks Thursday and because of fear of landslides, the municipality announced an evacuation. Some 200 people were taken in buses to a nearby hotel, aided by people from the Red Cross and the civil defense.
“Darn, this is bad. I don’t think everyone understands how much water we are talking about. The peak is far from being reached. More is to come when the locks are opened,” Tone Velo, a local resident, wrote on Facebook.
Authorities did not provide a nationwide count of evacuees, but Norwegian broadcaster NRK said it was up to at least 4,000.
The initial damage estimate was at 1 billion kroner (nearly $100 million), according to the Norwegian Natural Perils Pool, an insurance regulator.
“We expect far more damage reports in the future,” spokeswoman Stine Neverdal said, stressing the figures were preliminary.
Although the rain has mostly stopped, authorities say the flooding is expected to continue until at least Friday. Major roads and train lines were likely to be closed for days.
The catastrophic flooding, among the worst in the Scandinavian country in recent years, was triggered by days of heavy summer rain.
In 2020, 10 people were killed in a landslide in Ask, a village north of Oslo, in one of the worst landslides in Norway’s modern history. A landslide in the central part of the country in 1893 killed 116 people.
On Wednesday, a dam partially burst after Norway’s largest river spilled over and broke through the structure. Downstream communities had been evacuated and no casualties were reported. Police said the situation at the dam was being continuously assessed but as of Thursday it no longer deemed critical.
There had been fears that a train bridge over the Lågen River would collapse because of the large volume of water, but railway officials said Thursday that it was now stable. All traffic across the bridge was halted Monday.
For the first time in 35 years, the popular Peer Gynt open-air festival will end two days early, on Friday, because of the flooding, according to its chief executive, May Brit Støve.
The nine-day event features dance, concerts, art exhibitions and more and is held in a picturesque valley near Lillehammer, which hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics. The festival has been held since 1989.
Storm Hans battered northern Europe starting Monday, causing damage and disruptions in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. Ferries were canceled, flights were delayed, roads and streets were flooded, people were injured by falling branches and thousands remained without electricity. Southeastern Norway was particularly badly affected.
Norway’s acting police chief Håkon Skulstad said “the situation is serious and constantly developing.”
On Thursday, the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate raised its warning for floods and landslides from orange to red for parts of southern Norway.
Norwegian royals were to visit some of the affected areas: Norway’s King Harald and Queen Sonja on Friday while his son, Crown Prince Haakon who is heir to the thrown, on Saturday.
In neighboring Sweden, parts of the harbor in the second-largest city, Goteborg, remained flooded. Roads and train lines in the area were closed due to the water.
The Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute issued orange warnings -– the second highest level — because of a risk of flooding in parts of the country along the border with Norway.