Brienz, also called Brinzauls in Romansh, is a small Swiss town in the canton of Grisons: its approximately 80 inhabitants were warned on Tuesday that they will have to leave their homes by Friday at 6pm. According to geologists, the large rock face looming over Brienz is close to breaking and a mass of two million cubic meters of rock will break away in an inclusive period “in the next seven or twenty-four days.”
The Brienz area, in the Albula valley, has been under observation by scientists and geologists for many years: movements of the mountain and the surrounding terrain have been reported for at least a century, but their speed has increased in the last twenty years . In the village, the church bell tower has partially tilted and some buildings have shown cracks due to a slip of the ground, which however seems to have stopped in recent years.
The current danger comes from the overlying mountain, commonly called the “island” (insel in German): it is considered so imminent that it has forced the authorities to bring forward the evacuation, initially planned for the autumn. Geologists have found a significant increase in the speed and extent of the movements, which herald the breaking of part of the rock. However, it is not possible to hypothesize with certainty whether these collapses will be gradual, and the debris will stop before the town, or if the wall will collapse in a single huge landslide, which would completely destroy Brienz.
The mountain village (1150 meters above sea level) has been no longer an independent municipality since 2014, but has been merged with other hamlets into the new municipality of Albula. Its residents are just over 80, but only about sixty people live there all year round. On Tuesday they received the news of the evacuation, which will have to take place in a short time: the authorities advised them to bring along personal belongings whose sentimental value could not be reimbursed by the insurance company, but to leave the rest.
It will be possible to return to the village during the day, for short periods, depending on the results of the monitoring of the movements of the mountain, but not to stay there overnight. Residents will be accommodated in neighboring villages, in some houses normally used as summer residences or with friends and relatives. In the village, where no one has been able to enter since yesterday evening, only the animals of two farms will remain, which will not be moved at the moment.
The hope of the authorities and inhabitants is that after the expected landslide, especially if it is gradual, it will be possible to return to live in Brienz. The heavy rains of these days could accelerate the process, which in this case does not seem directly linked to global warming. according to reports from the authorities.
Before the evacuation, alternative solutions had been considered, such as controlled explosions or the construction of protective barriers: the former were considered too dangerous, the latter insufficient. In 2017 a large landslide had hit the Swiss village of Bondo, on the border with Lombardy, causing eight deaths.