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1995

Avalanche buries homes in Iceland

An unusually large avalanche buries homes and kills 20 people in Flateyri, Iceland, on this day in 1995. This disaster was the second deadly avalanche in the region that year.

Ten months earlier, on January 17, the small fishing village of Sudavik had suffered a devastating avalanche in which 16 residents lost their lives. The incident illuminated the dangers of living in historically avalanche-prone areas. As winter began the following October, high winds in the West Fjords prompted evacuations across the region. Hundreds of electric poles were snapped by the winds and on October 26, an avalanche of snow, ice and rocks crushed and killed a herd of 18 horses in Langidalur. Later, another slide destroyed a storage building in Sugandafjor.

Residents remained on high alert on the evening of October 27. At 4 a.m., a deafening roar was heard above Flateyri as a huge avalanche crashed down the mountain above the town. Snow and rocks buried 17 homes, only one of which had been thought to lie in an avalanche danger zone. Local residents immediately attempted a rescue effort, which proved extremely difficult in the darkness with all landmarks erased. The would-be rescuers had trouble remembering where each buried home was actually located.

In the meantime, several victims were able to dig themselves out from under the snow. United States military helicopters and the Icelandic Coast Guard arrived with 600 rescuers and dogs specially trained to locate buried people. Eventually, 20 people were pulled out alive. One woman was saved after being stuck completely motionless for eight hours. The last survivor to be found, an 11-year-old girl, was rescued 11 hours after the avalanche. It took two days to locate all the bodies.

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