Friday, March 27, 2009

Slip Slidin' Away

Sure, getting snowed in can be unpleasant. Cold temperatures can threaten frostbite or death if you aren't properly dressed. But what do you do if your the land beneath your home slides downhill taking you and all your worldly possesions with you? Sometimes you die, as many of the articles in this blog attest to. Fortunately things haven't become that bad here, but the potential for disaster still looms.

Albania has all the ingredients necessary for life-threatening landslides. To call the terrain mountainous is a slight understatement. From the air, the country looks like it was crumpled up and tossed aside by the forces of nature. The geology of the area also contributes to the landslide risks. Sedimentary layers of varying materials, some volcanic deposits, and silt buildups are inherently unstable. Factor in the human elements of deforestation, neglect of infrastructure maintenance, and shoddy construction and the recipe for disaster is nearly complete. Just add rain.

Add rain we did. As I write, we enter the fifth month in a row where we've had more rainy days than not. Great for the trees and flower. Not so great for soil stability. Full reservoirs have a way of pointing out weakness in the dams that hold them back. Near Kryevidh local authorities rushed to drain a lake that was threatening to collapse the earthen dam that held it back. Today there was word of another reservoir under threat because of a "karstic sinkhole" developing below the dam. I don't know the difference between a karstic or non-karstic sinkhole, but I have seen pictures of sinkholes swallowing neighborhoods in Florida so I know it ain't good.

Those dams have held so far. Hillsides are another story. The most serious was a landslide at Synej near Kavaje. At last count, eight houses were destroyed or uninhabitable due to the movement of the earth. Looking at the video, you can see how all of the factors for landsliding are present. No ground cover, construction in obviously unstable terrain, loose soil, and buckets of rain. The same story is being played out across the country. Trebinje, near Pogradec, has seen the "reactivation" of a previous landslide that now threatens to destroy some homes. The mountain passes of Qafe Mali and Qafe Shllak have each been repeatedly blocked as mud and rocks cascade over the roadway.

Can we make the rain stop now? Please.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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