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Love and memories live on

Torchlight procession: Hundreds of residents go to the top of Vei 230, where 11 homes destroyed by an avalanche last Dec. 19 once stood. FOTO: Line Nagell Ylvisåker

Love and memories live on

A warm-hearted and powerful gathering touched those who participated in the torchlight procession up to Lia where an avalanche struck on Dec. 19 of last year.

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Just before it started, the winds calmed and snow flurries ceased. Around 400 people gathered in front of Kulturhuset for the memorial.

A long, silent torchlight moved slowly up the hillside to where 11 houses were destroyed and two people killed by an avalanche exactly one year ago. Some talked quietly with one another and others shed a few tears, while the children were playing in the snow. Upon reaching the place where the houses stood, torches were set into the snow and roses lain down.

Celebrating life
Svalbard Church Priest Leif Magne Helgesen, who commemorated the loss of Atle Husby, 42 and Nikoline Røkenes, 2, focused on love and positive memories in his speech.

"Today one year later, we celebrate life," he said. "We celebrate all those who were saved. Even where we lost two of our own, we lost not love. We showed that love lives on, the memories live on. We have not forgotten Atle's humor and we have not forgotten the smile of Nikoline. We stood together in extreme challenges a year ago. We also stood together in the long silent grief afterwards, and we are together today."

Afterwards, he asked those standing at the avalanche area to observe a minute of silence.

Unity
The memorial began outside Kulturhuset with the Store Norske Men's Choir performing the beautiful Swedish song "Jag Har Hört om en Stad" ("I Have Heard of a City") before Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen delivered a powerful speech.

He focused first and foremost on his thoughts about those closest to the victims. But he also highlighted the strong unity of the community and how urgent efforts during last year's avalanche saved many lives. He noted the importance of rescue efforts and that many volunteered on short notice.

"Slowly but surely we have handling life again thanks that people in Longyearbyen care about each other," Olsen said.

He concluded by saying: "Honoring life is perhaps the best way to honor the two who lost their lives here."

Greatly affected
Gov. Kjerstin Askholt said the aftermath of the tragedy left a strong impression on her.

"Meetings with the relatives after avalanche last year are still sitting hard in my chest and will forever mark me," she said.

Secretary of State for Justice and Public Security Gjermund Hagesæter, offered his deepest sympathy from the government to those who lost their homes. He also wished to thank Longyearbyen.

"On behalf of the government I would also like to thank everyone who helped in the rescue effort and for the collective effort that was made," Hagesæter said.

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