Dozens are missing and at least nine people have been injured in a massive night-time landslide in a Norwegian town.
Homes were buried under a huge slick of mud at 4am in the village of Ask, in the municipality of Gjerdrum, 12 miles north of Oslo.
Photos show at least eight homes were swept away in the area, which was home to around 5,000 people, and geologists have blamed a layer of unstable ‘quick clay’ beneath the topsoil.
Formed after the end of the last ice age, quick clay is found in Sweden, Norway and other Arctic countries, and can ‘totally collapse and float like a liquid’ when too much weight is piled on it.
Some 40 ambulances were sent to the scene and hundreds have been evacuated amid fears of further landslides.
Cops, who have declared a disaster, say 26 are unaccounted for and several people have been trapped with some managing to phone relatives appealing for help. Others made emergency calls to report their houses were moving.
Norwegian Police were alerted at 4am to the slip south of the village of Ask, in the municipality of Gjerdrum, 12 miles north of Oslo
Norwegian media said up to 200 people had been evacuated from their homes and nine injured, though none were in critical condition
Following an assessment by geologists, the police decided to extend their original evacuation zone further south of the landslide, which is 700metres long
There were no reports of people missing, but officials could not rule out that there were people in collapsed buildings
The area where Ask (pictured from above) is known for having a lot of so-called quick clay, a form of clay that can change from solid to liquid form. There have been previous landslides reported in the area
Following an assessment by geologists, the police decided to extend their original evacuation zone further south of the landslide, which is 700metres long.
‘Several homes have been taken by the landslide. Emergency services, with assistance from the Norwegian civil defence and the military, are in the process of evacuating,’ Norwegian police said on Twitter.
Norwegian media said up to 200 people had been evacuated from their homes and nine injured, though none were in critical condition.
‘Police are designating this as a disaster,’ chief of operations Roger Pettersen told broadcaster NRK amid Arctic conditions on Wednesday.
He added: ‘The injured have been transported to hospital and to the emergency room. ‘In addition, we have a retirement home that has been evacuated and extensive evacuation is underway for the homes that are within the evacuation zone.’
He said emergency calls had come in from people saying their whole house was moving.
Helicopters hovered over the area, at times lowering emergency responders towards the debris of collapsed houses.
‘There were two massive tremors that lasted for a long while and I assumed it was snow being cleared or something like that,’ Oeystein Gjerdrum, 68, told NRK.
‘Then the power suddenly went out, and a neighbour came to the door and said we needed to evacuate, so I woke up my three grandchildren and told them to get dressed quickly.’
The evacuation has now slowed because the landslide cut straight across a road through the village, leaving a deep ravine which cars could not pass.
‘So there are dramatic reports and the situation is serious,’ Pettersen said.
A rescue helicopter flies above debris from destroyed houses, seen in the ravine that was left by the landslide on Wednesday
Photos show at least eight homes were swept away in the area, which was home to around 5,000 people. Some 40 ambulances were sent to the scene
Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg offered her sympathies in a social media post, saying: ‘It hurts to see how the forces of nature have ravaged Gjerdrum. My thoughts go to all those affected by the landslide.
‘Now it is important that the emergency services get their job done.’
Solberg travelled to the village of around 1,000 people on Wednesday and described the landslide as ‘one of the largest’ the country had seen.
‘It’s a dramatic experience to be here,’ Solberg told reporters, adding she was particularly concerned with those still missing.
Geologists from the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate are currently assessing the site where the landslide hit to determine whether it is safe for rescue crews to enter.
The area where Ask is in a location known for having a lot of so-called quick clay, a form of clay that can change from solid to liquid form. There have been previous landslides reported in the area.
Quick clay is also found elsewhere in Norway and Sweden, but the government agency said in a statement that it was ‘unlikely that similar large landslides’ would occur elsewhere in the region for now.
It also exists in Finland, Russia, Canada and Alaska, according to the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute, having been formed after the last ice age when ice sheets covered much of northern Europe and North America.
After the ice melted, the clay was elevated above sea level, creating landmasses which can collapse ‘like a house of cards’ if overloaded, experts say.
The clay was once strengthened by salt deposits, but these have gradually been washed away over the millennia, leaving the quick clay areas ‘highly unstable’.