It was a disastrously stormy day in Longyearbyen. Warnings of wind speeds as high as 50 to 60 kmph had forced the tour operators to cancel all the expeditions. The Svalbard taxi company was the only one operating a city tour which I had also booked. The tour guide for the day was Mr. Viggo, one of the wittiest people I have ever met. He narrated the stories of formation and facts of existence of the town. We passed by almost each and every building in the town and it was clear that each and every establishment had a clear role in sustaining the balance in that society. It was interesting to hear that the coal mines are providing the backbone for companies like BMW and Mercedes and how Germany is the main benefactor of mining in this free land. Attractive wages have attracted people from all over the world, the result of which there is even a Thai shop in the town.
Selfi with Mr.Viggo:
World’s Northernmost Post:
The tour was restricted to only city limits by the weather conditions and we couldn’t visit any mines or valleys around. Viggo however did a great job and did everything in his prowess to make it an interesting one. Whatever we saw in the town had the northernmost tag – northernmost church, northernmost post and list continues. We passed by the cemetery of this land where it is “illegal to die”. Bodies couldn’t be buried there since the permafrost prevents them from decaying and they reappear on the surface. Our last stop was near to site where an avalanche had hit almost a year ago. He was explaining that they had removed all the remains as it was disheartening to see the remains of the disaster that took two lives in the family of this community. Whilst he was explaining, we observed something suspicious – there were two houses still lying there in ruins.
Soon the mystery became clear when we saw people rushing to this location. There was an avalanche in town minutes before we reached there. It took down two houses and whatever was on its way. Fortunately there were no casualties since people had been evacuated following an avalanche danger signal. The entire town sprang into action with people appearing with shovels and rescue equipment. It was grief and panic that defined all faces. A resident later explained how it bought back the haunting memories. The residents here receive the first implications of global warming in the form of these avalanches. It was also quite alarming that the temperatures had soared up to 5 degree Celsius in the first weeks of February. It was very bizarre for a town located just 1300 km away from the North Pole. There were rains instead of snowfall and people and animals were in distress. Things were settling up when this avalanche hit uninvited.
After the havoc:
It was noon and I went back to the room and decided to stay in until the weather gets better. It was quite surprising that within almost two hours the conditions changed dramatically. The storm subsided, clouds lifted up and sunlight was showering. This unexpected change helped in subsiding the shock and there was life again in the town by evening . There were huge machines running throughout the area clearing off all the snow and bringing the life to normality.