The Loen Rock Slides in Norway in 1905 and 1936

Just 31 years lie between two disasters of the same nature along the shores of a lake in Western Norway destroying twice the two lakeside villages.

Lake Lovatnet is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in Norway. In the first decade of the 1900s and again in the 1930s large fissures in the rock formation above the lake appeared and eventually rocks repeatedly fell into the lake. In 1905 a massive piece of the mountainside loosened and fell into the lake, producing waves of up to 40 meters in height that completely destroyed the two farm villages on the shore. “61 people lost their lives, half the population of Bødal and Nesdal together. Only ten were ever found.”

The villages were rebuilt, only a little bit higher up the shore. In 1936 daily rock falls happened again before eventually in September that year “one million cubic meters of rock fell down from 800 m height into Lake Lovatnet, pushing up the water and creating three waves; the highest a more than 74 meters high.” The two towns were once again completely destroyed.

Only a hundred kilometers away in a fjord called Tafjord the same thing happened in 1934: a massive piece of rock fell off the mountianside and sent a tsunami wave 17 meters high, reaching up to 300 meters inwards land, crushing houses and other buildings, moving large boats inwards land and killing 23 people.

This threat of rock slides resulting in tsunamis and floodings is common to this region of Norway. In 2015 director Roar Uthaug made a film based on the assumption that a similar event is expected to occur anytime in the future on the Åkerneset mountain, not far from Tarfjord. The movie entitled “The Wave” was so successful, two consecutive films were produced in 2018 and 2022.

The village of Bodal after the Loen Rock Slide. Click on the image for online source.
Image from the movie “The Wave”.
The fjord today. Click on the image for online source.
Image from the movie “The Wave”.

There is an excellent article about the Loen disasters by Christer Hoel online here. The quotes in my post are all from his text. I used another image from the movie here.

‘Extremes will become normal’

Quote by Lam Chiu-ying, former director of the Hong Kong Observatory, the central weather forecast agency of the government of Hong Kong, from an article in the Hong Kong Free Press about the Black Rainstorm and massive deluge of the week of September 4. 2023.

Here is a selection of photo images and video stills from international media coverage from September 9. 2023.

https://hongkongfp.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Kyle_HKFP_20230908-17-Copy.jpg
https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/hong-kongs-heaviest-rain-least-140-years-floods-city-streets-metro-2023-09-08/
https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/hong-kongs-heaviest-rain-least-140-years-floods-city-streets-metro-2023-09-08/
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-66748239
https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/hong-kongs-heaviest-rain-least-140-years-floods-city-streets-metro-2023-09-08/

Values for survival: Vanishing homelands Bangladesh and Venice

I first became aware of the presence of climate refugees from Bangladesh in Venice, Italy, through a remark, Amitav Ghosh made in his book “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable” from 2016. There the Indian-US-American novelist notes that Bengali was the second most heard langauge in Venice, due to the many merchants and shop clerks originally from Bangladesh and other Indian regions.

Why Venice? Ghosh suspects that “coastal people” seek refuge in other coastal towns, making the lagoon city Venice a preferable destination for Bangladeshis in Europe. While this seems like a convincing argument, and makes for a poetic story within the overall climate narrative of his book, I am a bit skeptical of this observation. While it is certainly true that the Bangladeshi community ranges among the ten largest migrant communities in Italy – with numbers anywhere between 146.000 and 400.000 – I have not found any indication that Bangladeshis were more likely to settle in Venice than other major cities like Rome or Milan. Venice has a long history of migration and currently an estimated 15% migrant citizens. Whether Ghosh’s observation is accurate or not, it is clear that the inhabitants of both places, Bangladesh and Venice, have a shared history and possibly understanding and knowledge of floodings.

image by H. Mamataz from “Vanishing Homelands”

The Oral History project “Vanishing Homelands”, that was realized by journalist and documentary film maker George Kurian, migration acitvist Hasna Hena Mamataz and architect Marco Moretto for the 17. Biennale di Venezia, brings the two communities together: native Venetians and migrated Bangladeshis. I find the project to be a great example of comparative urbanism and a very fine piece of climate journalism. The three authors practice the same approach, I am pursuing with this project: to connect communities challenged by climate change in different parts of the globe through shared experiences and biographical and cultural backgrounds. I am very thankful to their work, as it shows quite lively, how – to use George Kurian’s words – we can try to “meet each other respectfully as equals, and how can we interact meaningfully, to find values for survival?”

Image by V. Rossi and G. Moretto from “Vanishing Homelands”

Their text focuses on biographical reports and the immediate experience of flooding, economic hardship and flight, omiting any furtherer analysis or speculation, how this shared experience can create political solidarity and emancipation. This seems like the natural next step, to formulate a supra-national alliance of front line communities like the Bangladeshi and the Venetians based on and building on journalistic work like the one by Kurian, Mamataz and Moretto.

The full text of Vanishing Homelands is available here. All images are from the text.

Climate Catastrophe pictured in 1986

Already in 1986 the well known German news-magazine Der Spiegel published this image on it’s front page. It depicts the Dome of Cologne, one of the most important cultural heritage sites of Germany, partially flooded. The visual strategies of the media have not changed much in the last 35 years!

This is the same German magazine 10 years later.

I can’t say whether the change in motiv is due to a hightened awareness of the global interconnectedness of the issue or because Germany hosted the 1. UN Climate Change Conference that year.

Storm surge Xaver in Hamburg

On December 6, 2013, hurricane “Xaver” led to the second highest storm surge ever measured in Hamburg. The water level of the Elbe rises to 6.09 meters above sea level, roads near the river are under water. But people are spared: the dikes hold up.

© dpa, Foto: Christian Clarisius
© AFP / Bodo Jel
© AFP / patrick Lux
© Christian Clarisius (dpa)
© Christian Clarisius (dpa)

The last 400.000 years

This is from the New York times in 1959.

thanks to Janet Grau for the lead!