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Graubünden landslide: 'No one expected this kind of catastrophe'

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Graubünden landslide: 'No one expected this kind of catastrophe'
A mass of mud and rock hit the village of Bondo. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
09:07 CEST+02:00
Search teams on Friday morning resumed looking for the eight people still missing after the massive landslide that swept away a mountainside in Graubünden on Wednesday.
Around 120 emergency workers were on the ground on Thursday, along with rescue dogs, infrared cameras and helicopter support from above. However rescue efforts were suspended over night for safety reasons, news agency ATS said.
   
The landslide, which struck on Wednesday morning, sent mud, rocks and dirt flooding down the Piz Cengalo mountain into the outskirts of the village of Bondo, near the Italian border.
   
About 100 people were evacuated from Bondo as well as 32 others in the area, some airlifted out by helicopters.
 
Twelve farm buildings, including barns and stables, were destroyed, while Graubünden's main southern highway was closed to traffic.
   
Police confirmed that eight hikers, from Germany, Austria and Switzerland had been in the region of Val Bondasca where the landslide occurred and were missing.
 
The Austrian foreign ministry confirmed that a couple from the country was missing, while Blick reported that four of those being searched for were Germans.
   
There had been fears about another six people who had been unaccounted for, but Graubünden police spokeswoman Chiarella Piana later told AFP they had been found safe on the Italian side of the border.
   
No children were believed to be among the missing, Andrea Mittner of the Graubünden police told a news conference.
 
Police and residents said mobile phone coverage in the area was spotty, which might explain why the missing had not been in touch.
 
A still from a video shows the immensity of the rockfall. Photo: Bruno Sourzac/AFP
 
The landslide set four million cubic metres of mud and debris in motion -- the equivalent of 4,000 houses -- its relentless moving mass stretching 500 metres across, according to the regional natural hazards office (AWN).
 
The event was so severe that the vibrations set off seismometers across Switzerland, which measured the equivalent of a magnitude 3.0 earthquake, according to the Swiss Seismological Service.
 
Images showed an unstoppable mass of thick mud and sludge moving down the mountainside like lava, tearing up trees and demolishing at least one building in its path, and partially engulfing others.
   
"It was terrible," Elisa Nunzi, 27, who witnessed the landslide from her home in a neighbouring higher-altitude village, told Blick.
   
She said she first noticed something was amiss when a large flock of birds began flying nervously around the church tower, and then an ear-deafening bang that sent rocks pouring down the mountain.
   
"There were so many. It did not stop," she said, adding that a blanket of smoke and dust soon covered Bondo.
   
"You could not see anything for an hour. But you could still hear stones falling down. It smelled of granite," Nunzi said.
 
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
 
Christian Speck, manager of a hotel in Soglio, a few kilometres from Bondo, told AFP that "at breakfast time, my customers and I saw rocks come loose from the mountain side and slide towards Bondo, in a huge cloud of smoke. I immediately warned the commune." 
 
Simona Rauch, a Protestant minister at a church in Val Bregaglia, a valley that groups several villages including Bondo, told AFP that evacuated residents did not expect to be gone so long.
   
"People left immediately, leaving everything behind. They didn't bring anything, because they thought they would be returning quickly," she said. 
   
"No one expected this kind of catastrophe."
   
The evacuees were being housed in private homes and in nearby hotels, including in the village of Castasegna on the Italian border.
   
Wednesday's landslide was not the first to hit Piz Cengalo.
   
A large landslide in 2011, which according to Graubünden police was about a third of the size of the latest one, poured down the mountainside and landed in an uninhabited valley.
   
Following that incident, an automatic debris alarm system was installed. That alarm was set off when Wednesday's landslide barrelled down the mountain at 9.30am, police said.
   
The last deadly landslide to hit Switzerland was in November 2014, in the city of Davesco-Soragno, killing two people and injuring four others.
   
One of the worst such incidents in recent years happened in 2000, when 12 people perished and four others were declared missing after floods in the southern canton of Valais.

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