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The devastating avalanches of January 1968 in Davos

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26.01.2018  |  News

 

An event being hosted by the SLF and the Town of Davos looks back at the avalanche disaster of 26/27 January 1968.

 
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A house destroyed by the avalanche “In den Arelen”, which struck the Wolfgang district of Davos on 27 January 1968. Photo: E. Wengi, SLF
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Clearing operations on the railway line and road in the Landwasser valley (Davos). The avalanche here cut a wide swath and came down on the right side of the valley. It buried the railway line and road underneath several metres of snow, as well as the two entrances to the tunnels, and ultimately caused considerable damage to the forest on the opposite side of the valley. Photo: E. Wengi, SLF
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By far the largest destructive avalanche, which occurred at 10.40 pm on 26 January 1968, was released on the eastern flank of the Schiahorn. It destroyed the Parsennbahn railway bridge over the brook Dorfbach, caused enormous damage in the communities Auf der Egga and Auf den Böden, and plummeted as far as the road that is now Dorfstrasse. The avalanche claimed four lives. Photo: E. Wengi, SLF
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A building on the Egga destroyed by the Dorfbach avalanche of 26 January 1968. Photo: E. Wengi, SLF
 

Fifty years have passed since a series of hugely destructive avalanches struck Davos on 26 and 27 January 1968. No fewer than 41 avalanches wreaked devastation over far reaching areas, people were buried by the snow masses in six of the events. In the settlement zones of Davos thirteen people lost their lives in avalanches. Fifty-one residential properties, 14 barns and eleven hectares of forest were destroyed or damaged. By far the largest of the ruinous events was the Dorfbach avalanche. Among other annihilating incidents were the avalanche “In den Arelen” in the Wolfgang district of Davos; the Bildjibach avalanche; and the avalanche released from the Brämabüel that reached the site known locally as Dunkle Säge. Power cuts were caused by the toppling of electricity pylons, the Parsennbahn railway was damaged, the Rhätische Bahn railway line was blocked in nine places, and the main road was made impassable by eleven avalanches. For three days Davos was for all practical purposes cut off from the outside world. Only a few helicopter flights were available for the people and goods that needed to be moved most urgently. At the time, the characteristics and consequences of the catastrophe were unprecedented in Switzerland. Even seen from today’s perspective, such a localised concentration of highly destructive avalanches following unfamiliar or very seldom affected paths within a very short time is highly unusual; perhaps best compared with the dreadful avalanches of February 1999 in the Paznaun valley in the Austrian state of Tirol.

In the interim, federal, cantonal and district authorities have invested large sums in providing Davos with wide ranging protection against avalanches. Examples of the many improvements include the 390-meter long avalanche gallery alongside the lake, the avalanche dam in the Parsenn resort below the Schiahorn, extensive danger zoning, installations for triggering artificial avalanches, and the planning measures adopted by the Avalanche Warning Service of the town.

The SLF and the Town of Davos have now issued an open invitation to an event looking back on the avalanche disaster, which is to take place in the Aspen auditorium of the Congress Centre at 8 pm on Tuesday 6 February. Thomas Stucki (head of the SLF’s avalanche warning service) will describe the historical events, and Stephan Margreth (head of avalanche protection measures at the SLF) will present a summary of the avalanche defences that have been implemented since 1968. Hanspeter Hefti of the town’s Avalanche Commission will outline the measures that are now in place in Davos to prevent, to every extent possible, the occurrence of a similar incident. The audience will also hear eyewitness accounts of the immediate aftermath of the avalanche disaster.

Admission is free.

Programme: 8–9.30 pm, Congress Centre, Aspen room

Welcoming address

Tarzisius Caviezel, senior official in Davos
Jürg Schweizer, SLF Director

Description of the avalanche disaster

 

Thomas Stucki, head of the SLF’s avalanche warning service

History of defences in Davos, structural avalanche protection measures since the winter of 1968

Stefan Margreth, head of the SLF’s avalanche protection measures research group

Organisational avalanche protection measures in Davos

Hanspeter Hefti, avalanche officer of Davos local authority

A panel of eyewitnesses talk about their personal experiences 

 

Moderated by Birgit Ottmer, WSL/SLF head of communications

Open discussion and questions from the floor

 

Moderated by SLF Director Jürg Schweizer

 

 

FURTHER INFORMATION