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Avalanches have an enormous energy#

H. Maurer, May 1, 2019

When talking to friends from countries that do not have the combination of high, steep mountains and sometimes lots of snow I noticed that they can hardly believe the destructive power of big avalanches: That they can wipe out half of a village, or cut a wide path through a dense forest.

When my friend Markus Duschek from Tyrol sent me the pictures below from a mountain area close to where he lives I thought I would write a very short story using some of his pictures.

You can use them freely if you mention his name as photographer, the year 2019 (except for the last picture which is from 2018), and the URL of this page in Austria-Forum, i.e. https://austria-forum.org/af/Geography/Recent_Contributions/The_power_of_avalanches

The first picture shows a mountain in the background, and to the left and fairly far down (almost hidden by the tress in teh foreground) you can see a kind of scar on the face of the mountain. This was done by a “dust avalanche” (Staublawine), an avalanche of powder snow. Wet-snow avalanches can pack still more power. The following pictures show clearly the damage such an avalanche can do. The very last picture shows the impact of another still bigger avalanche in a different location nearby, and how it cut a wide path through a major forest.

Lawine
Picture of devastation caused by an avalanche. Photo: M. Duschek 2019
Lawine
Picture of devastation caused by an avalanche. Photo: M. Duschek 2019
Lawine
Picture of devastation caused by an avalanche. Photo: M. Duschek 2019
Lawine
Picture of devastation caused by an avalanche. Photo: M. Duschek 2019
Lawine
Picture of devastation caused by an avalanche. Photo: M. Duschek 2019
Lawine
Picture of devastation caused by an avalanche. Photo: M. Duschek 2019

A few examples of major human deaths caused by avalanches#

  • Two avalanches occurred in March 1910 in the Cascade and Selkirk Mountain ranges; On March 1 the Wellington avalanche killed 96 in Washington State, United States. Three days later 62 railroad workers were killed in the Rogers Pass avalanche in British Columbia, Canada.
  • A mountain climbing camp on Lenin Peak, in what is now Kyrgyzstan, was wiped out in 1990 when an earthquake triggered a large avalanche that overran the camp. Forty-three climbers were killed.
  • In 1993, the Bayburt Üzengili avalanche killed 60 individuals in Üzengili in the province of Bayburt, Turkey.
  • A large avalanche in Montroc, France, in 1999, 300,000 cubic metres of snow slid on a 30° slope, achieving a speed in the region of 100 km/h. It killed 12 people in their chalets under 100,000 tons of snow, 5 meters deep.
The small Austrian village of Galtür was hit by the Galtür avalanche in 1999. The village was thought to be in a safe zone but the avalanche was exceptionally large and flowed into the village. Thirty-one people died.

Further information on avalanches #