The demolition of the 11 pointed-roof houses destroyed by the Dec. 19 avalanche is well underway. But this is not just any not any tear down job for the machinery belonging to LNS Spitsbergen.
"There is not a day where we don't find something we think will be of significant benefit to those who have lived in the houses," says Andreas Grøtting Karlse who, along with Tommy Larsen, are at the forefront of the dismantling work."
Karlsen and Larsen are go into the homes before they are demolished to remove as much toxic and other hazardous material as possible. Windows that are intact are eased out and if they're broken the frame is removed. Electrical systems, lighting fixtures and certain types of tiles are also things on the "to-do" list of the two men.
"Everything will be sorted, even food waste," says LNS Spitsbergen Managing Director Frank Jakobsen.
And there is no small amount of food waste the men are finding in the homes. In several of them are obvious scenes of a household disrupted just before 11:30 a.m. five days before last Christmas.
"In many places it is clearly visible that extra food had been purchased before Christmas," ," Karlse says. "We have found quantities of Christmas ribs and cloudberries, for example."
When Svalbardposten visited the demolition crew they were starting on a house that once had the address Vei 230-26. It was the sixth house in the row. The first was the worst.
"People perished in the avalanche, and many had their lives turned upside-down," Larsen says. "So it was a bit repulsive to go into the houses to begin with. There was a kind of private sphere over it. But now we more have the view that it is about doing a necessary job."
Both Karlse and Larsen keep a watchful eye when they enter. Those who lived in the houses have submitted lists of things they are missing. Many times the objects are found.
"We have found lots of pictures that have been valuable to people," Karlsen says. "Diaries, school reports and passports are other things that have been found."
"There is not a day where the guys don't come into my office with things they suspect may be of value to those who have lived in the houses," CEO of LNS Spitsbergen, Frank Jakobsen says.
Don't always dare
People have been allowed to retrieve belongings out of the houses that are somewhat structurally secure. But some places are missing so much of the support structure not even the demolition crew dares enter.
In 230-26 all of the fixtures are removed. Only some broken lamps and dishes on the living room floor serve as a reminder people lived here a couple of months ago. The floors and ceilings on both the first and the second floor have steep inclines after the home was pushed down the mountainside.
Looking into what once was the kitchen and the entrance of the house brings the realization of the enormous forces that have been at work. The walls have collapsed straight into the rooms. Windows, wall panels, insulation and moldings are chaotically strewn inside the rooms. The refrigerator was cast about randomly and among the furnishings in one room is the spare tire of a car. Buried in the middle of the debris pile is the tire's "owner" – a Toyota.
Placing at Hotellneset
After Kenneth Johansen, operating an excavator, fills containers with debris from the wrecked houses, the containers are brought to Hotellneset. The debris is being stored there in a dedicated landfill with wire mesh netting on the walls and ceilings. The people working at this operation are keeping their eyes open as well.
"After I empty the containers at Hotellneset, I look over the load to see if there might be something of interest to those who have lived in the houses," says Aleksander Nyborg Kiil.
Several times he has discovered important belongings in the loads – just before a bulldozer crushes the building waste. When all the houses are demolished the waste will be transported to the Stormoen receiving station in the Troms region minicipality of Balsfjord, which is operated by the company Perpetuum. What is left of the homes will receive a final sorting there.
The demolition of the 11 pointed-roof houses will be completed within a week or two, Jakobsen says. But the job is far from finished.
Picking up by hand
"There will still be work left to do when spring arrives," Jakobsen says. "The area must be cleared completely, and that means there is going to picking up glass and other small things by hand."
Jakobsen has lived in Longyearbyen almost his entire life.
What does he think about seeing much much of Svalbard's history being removed?
"I myself have lived in several of these houses, including the one which was moved furthest by the avalanche," he says. "The houses have been part of the cityscape since the 1970s, and it goes without saying that it is very strange to now go up there and toil where we are tearing many of them down and hauling them away."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini.