Avalanche hits Norway's remote Svalbard archipelago

COPENHAGEN -- An avalanche smashed into 10 houses Saturday on the remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, sending eight people to the hospital and leaving several others missing, authorities said.

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The avalanche tumbled down about 11 a.m. from Sukkertoppen mountain, which dominates Longyearbyen, the main settlement on Svalbard. Dozens of houses at the foot of Sukkertoppen were protectively evacuated, said Tone Hertzberg, a spokeswoman for the governor of Svalbard.

Three children were in serious condition and five adults were slightly injured by the avalanche, hospital spokeswoman Marit Einejord told The Associated Press.

Hertzberg said "it would be logical" to assume the avalanche was connected to a storm that hit the Svalbard archipelago late Friday. Local daily Svalbardposten said the storm, with winds up to 95 kph (60 mph), was the worst in 30 years.

"People have been taken to the hospital and there are still people unaccounted for. Right now we still have no overview of the situation. It will take hours, many hours, before we do," Hertzberg told the AP by telephone.

About 100 people, including emergency workers and volunteers, were helping out following the avalanche. The archipelago's hospital requested extra medical staff from the largest nearby hospital in Tromsoe, on the Norwegian mainland, and rescue teams with search dogs were on their way.

The fierce storm also ripped off a school's roof, sending it flying onto a soccer field. The airport in Longyearbyen was closed Friday but was expected to reopen later Saturday.

Svalbard, which sits more than 800 kilometres (500 miles) north of the Norwegian mainland, is known for its stunning views of snow-covered mountains, fjords and glaciers. Located midway between continental Norway and the North Pole, the archipelago has about 2,600 residents.



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