Landslide risk delays Gotthard rescue

Continuing danger of rock fall at Gotthard may mean the body of a man buried under the debris will have to be dug out by a robot.

The body of the 29-year-old worker who was buried in a landslide at the Gotthard on Tuesday was located by a specially trained dog, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported.

Rescue teams have not yet been able to remove the body from the debris because a risk of further rock fall. An overhang of some 500 cubic metres of rock is particularly worrying, geologist Markus Hauser at rail operator SBB told the paper.

Consequently the team is considering making use of a remotely operated machine to start digging away at the fallen rock.

The accident happened on Tuesday as three men were working to secure the site from precisely this kind of incident. It is thought that the men were only a week or two away from securing the area, which had been the site of a smaller slide in March.

The piece of rock that fell measured 60 metres by 40 metres and was approximately 15 metres thick.

Workers will need to clear away as much of the debris from the top of the rock as possible in order for geologists to assess the remaining danger. The rock will then need to be cleared from across the rails.

“We have projected that all this will take at least a month,” SBB spokesman Reto Kormann told the newspaper.

In the meantime the rail line will remain closed, shutting off one of Europe’s most important transport and freight arteries.

While much of the passenger traffic can be shifted to the roads, freight transport is considerably more difficult because of the size of the loads. One transport company, Hupac, usually has between 30 and 40 trains using the Gotthard railway per day.

The accident has also re-awakened the debate concerning the controversial expansion of a second Gotthard road tunnel, having highlighted the importance of the north-south connection, Tages Anzeiger reports.

The government will decide before the summer recess how best to tackle the thorny issue of where to redirect road traffic during the expected three-year closure of the existing tunnel for renovations.

Voters in Canton Uri last May rejected the planned construction of a second road tunnel under the Gotthard massif.

A major links through the Alps, the Gotthard motorway tunnel is often clogged with holiday-makers heading south for the summer. The world’s longest rail tunnel will soon run close by, and is scheduled to open to traffic in 2017.

The outcome of the vote was hailed as a victory by the Alpine Initiative and other environmental organizations that aim to reduce road traffic in the mountains.

The groups said in a statement that train shuttles could be considered as an alternative to the second tunnel.

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Graubünden village faces new rockfall threat

The village of Bondo in the Val Bregaglia region of Graubünden is once more under threat of rockfalls just a few months after residents began to return home following a huge landslide that hit the village in August.

Graubünden village faces new rockfall threat
Bondo after last summer's landslides. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
Some four million cubic metres of rock detached from the Piz Cengalo mountain on August 23rd after a period of heavy rain, sending a wave of mud, rock and debris into the village that destroyed some properties and cut off vital services
The landslide was so severe that its vibrations were measured to be the equivalent of a 3 magnitude earthquake. 
Eight hikers were presumed killed in the tragedy – their bodies were never found – and the village, though thankfully evacuated in time, was left uninhabitable until October
Now the village is faced with the prospect of further rockfalls. 
Officials from the region told the media that another large rockfall occurred on the Piz Cengalo last week, and some two million cubic metres of rock remain unstable, with at least half of that at high risk of falling in the coming days. 
Torrential rain forecast for the area over the next few days, which is particularly bad news since the retention basin – built to help protect the village from rockfalls – has not yet been entirely emptied after the last landslide.