COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A dam in southern Norway partially burst Wednesday after days of heavy rain that triggered mudslides and flooding in the mountainous region and forced downstream communities to evacuate, authorities said.
Authorities initially considered blowing up part of the dam at the Braskereidfoss hydroelectric power station on Glåma, Norway’s longest and most voluminous river. The idea was to prevent downstream communities from being flooded by using a limited and controlled explosion to release the pressure on the dam.
But that proposal was scrapped after water tore through the structure, police spokesman Fredrik Thomson told reporters.
“The damage from a potential concrete plant explosion would be so great that it would be useless,” Thompson said.
Now officials are hopeful of seeing a gradual and even leveling off of the water, Thompson said.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has warned that flooding will continue to be a threat as excess water flows downriver.
“This is by no means over,” he said. “It could be the highest water level in 50 years or more.”
The dam’s generators stopped working early Wednesday morning after a power grid failure, the plant’s operator, Hafslund Eco, said in a statement.
An automatic system that should have opened the floodgates to release water failed. The rapidly rising water spilled over the dam and into the power plant itself, causing extensive damage, authorities said.
Huge volumes of water poured over the western parts of the dam, Thomson said.
The water tore apart a two-lane road and fences that ran across the top of the dam.
Per Storm-Mathisen, a spokesman for the power plant operator, told the Norwegian news agency NTB that the water diversion appeared “to be going well.”
At least 1,000 people live in communities near the river in the area, and authorities said they were all evacuated before the dam began to fail.
In other developments on Wednesday, a Norwegian woman in her 70s died after falling into a stream the day before. She managed to drag herself to shore, but due to flooding, it took rescuers several hours to get her to a hospital, police said.
More than 600 people were evacuated in a region north of Oslo, with police in southern Norway reporting the situation there as “unclear and chaotic.” All main roads between Oslo and Trondheim, Norway’s third-largest city, were closed, according to the Norwegian Public Highway Administration.
“We are in a crisis situation of national dimensions,” Innlandet County Mayor Aud Hove said. “People are isolated in various local communities and emergency services risk not being able to reach people who need help.”
The weather system known as Storm Hans has battered parts of Scandinavia and the Baltics for several days, causing rivers to overflow, damaging roads and toppling branches that have injured people.
Scientists have not done the intricate data analysis necessary to see how much, if any, human-caused climate change played a role in the flooding. But they have long warned that as the world warms, extreme storms will produce greater amounts of rain in larger bursts.
One of the main reasons is that the warmer the air, the more water it can hold. Also, many scientists say that changes in the jet stream, the atmospheric currents that drive weather systems, often cause storms to stall in places and dump more rain. Those changes could be related to climate change.
Two hydrologists said the conflict between old dams and higher amounts of rainfall is becoming a more frequent problem.
University of Virginia hydrologist Venkat Lakshmi said his research shows that older dams are not prepared to handle the rain that comes in stronger, unwieldy gusts.
Many of those dams were designed to withstand flooding that was supposed to occur only once a century, but those events now occur much more frequently, he said.
“This kind of conflict between the climate and our hydrological infrastructure, like dams, is going to become more common,” said UCLA hydrologist Park Williams. As rainfall intensifies, reservoirs and dams “will be increasingly out of step with the changing climate.”
Meanwhile, flooding in southern Norway and central Sweden washed away sheds, small houses and mobile homes.
Norwegian forecasters predicted up to 30 millimeters (1.2 inches) of additional rain could fall by Wednesday night, saying “the amounts are not extreme, but given the conditions in the area, the consequences may be.”
In Goteborg, the second-largest city in neighboring Sweden, much of the harbor was left under water.
Weather agencies in both countries issued urgent alerts.
Erik Hojgard-Olsen, a meteorologist at the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, told the Aftonbladet newspaper that the weather was unusual for this time of year.
“It’s exceptional to have a pressure (system) as low as Hans, which has brought so much rain for several days in a row,” he said. “Especially because it is a summer month, it has lasted a long time.”
Norway’s Directorate of Water Resources and Energy said record levels of flooding were recorded at several locations in Drammensvassdraget, a drainage basin west of Oslo, the capital.
Erik Holmqvist, a senior engineer for the agency, said four lakes. including the Randsfjorden, the fourth largest in Norway, were particularly vulnerable to flooding.
“We have to go back to 1910 to get the same forecasts for the Randsfjorden,” Holmqvist told the VG newspaper.
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