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New mudslide hits barely recovering Swiss town


ZURICH: A fresh mudslide swept into a remote mountain town in eastern Switzerland on Friday where a massive landslide earlier this week left eight people missing.

Germany’s N-TV news station and Switzerland’s Blick newspaper showed video images of a river of mud flowing through tiny Bondo in the eastern Grisons canton, near the Swiss-Italian border.

Rescuers continued their search for eight people from Switzerland, Austria and Germany reported missing since the initial landslide above the town on Wednesday.

Police in Grisons said the new landslide hit in late afternoon local time and that some residents who had been allowed to return home had to be evacuated again.

Earlier, police said the hopes of finding the missing after a massive landslide alive are fading, police said on Friday, warning it could take weeks before all those who fled can return home.

“The chances of survival are not high,” local police spokesman Roman Ruegg told reporters.

The landslide sent a huge river of rocks and mud flooding down the Piz Cengalo mountain into the outskirts of Bondo, a village near the Italian border.

The eight missing, who come from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, were hiking in the Val Bondasca region at the time.

Police said they had set off in separate groups. A massive search and rescue operation is under way, involving some 120 emergency workers equipped with infrared cameras and mobile phone detectors, helicopters and rescue dogs.

According to Anna Giagometti, mayor of Bregaglia — a municipality that encompasses Bondo — paths in the area had been flagged as “dangerous” earlier this month because of falling rocks.

Speaking to the Blick daily, she said warning signs in several languages had been posted in the village.

Police and residents said mobile phone coverage in the area was spotty, voicing hope it could explain why those still missing had not been in touch.

But authorities acknowledged that the chances of a happy ending were dwindling fast.

Swiss President Doris Leuthard, who examined the site from the air on Thursday, said the probability that the hikers were dead “is increasing by the hour,” Blick reported.

Dramatic footage showed an entire mountainside disintegrating, unleashing an unstoppable mass of thick mud and sludge that tore up trees and demolished at least one building in its path.

Police said 12 farm buildings, including barns and stables, had been destroyed, while the Graubunden canton’s main southern highway was closed to traffic.

“It was terrible,” Elisa Nunzi told Blick after witnessing the landslide from her home in a higher-altitude village.

The 27-year-old said she heard a deafening bang that sent rocks pouring down the mountain. “There were so many.

It did not stop.”

Christian Speck, manager of a hotel in Soglio, several kilometres from Bondo, also witnessed the mountainside collapsing.

“At breakfast time, my customers and I saw rocks come lose from the mountainside and slide towards Bondo, in a huge cloud of smoke,” he said.

The landslide set four million cubic metres of mud and debris in motion, its relentless mass stretching 500 metres across, according to the regional natural hazards office (AWN).

The event was so severe that the vibrations set off seismometers across Switzerland, measuring the equivalent of a 3.0 magnitude earthquake, according to the Swiss Seismological Service.

Experts hinted that climate change could be partially to blame for the disaster, with melting permafrost and an adjacent glacier likely destabilising the landmass.

An alert system put in place after a previous large landslide in the area in late 2011 allowed the authorities to quickly sound the alarm and evacuate around 100 people from Bondo and two Alpine cabins, amid fears of fresh landslides. — AFP

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