By JARI TANNER for the Associated Press
HELSINKI (AP) — Rescue teams searching for survivors four days after a landslide carried away homes in a Norwegian village found no signs of life Saturday amid the ruined buildings and debris.
Three bodies have been recovered but searchers are still looking for seven more people believed to be missing. The landslide in the village of Ask is the worst in modern Norwegian history and has shocked citizens in the Nordic nation.
Search teams patrolled with dogs as helicopters and drones with heat-detecting cameras flew amid harsh winter conditions over the ravaged hillside in Ask, a village of 5,000 people 25 kilometers (16 miles) northeast of Oslo.
Norwegian police pledged not to scale down the search even though a rescue team from neighboring Sweden has already returned home.
Local police chief Ida Melbo Oeystese said it may still be possible to find survivors in air pockets inside the destroyed buildings.
“Medically, you can survive for several days if you have air,” she told reporters at a news conference.
By late Saturday, a second and third body had been found after a first one was discovered on Friday. Only a Dalmatian dog has been rescued alive from the ruins so far.
King Harald V, Queen Sonja and Crown Prince Haakon plan to visit the disaster area on Sunday to pay their respects to the victims and to meet with residents and rescue workers. The 83-year-old monarch said in his New Year’s speech that the royal family had been deeply moved by the tragedy.
Norwegian police have published the names and birth years of the 10 people initially reported missing, including a 2-year-old child. Officials haven’t yet identified the three recovered bodies.
The landslide early Wednesday cut across a road through Ask, leaving a deep, crater-like ravine. Photos and videos showed buildings hanging on the edge of the ravine, which grew to be 700 meters (2,300 feet) long and 300 meters (1,000 feet) wide. At least nine buildings with over 30 apartments were destroyed.
The rescue operation is being hampered by the limited number of daylight hours in Norway at this time of year and fears of further erosion. The ground is fragile at the site and unable to hold the weight of rescue equipment, including a heavy vehicle from the Norwegian military.
Over 1,000 people have been evacuated, and officials said up to 1,500 people may be moved from the area amid fears of further landslides.
The exact cause of the accident is not yet known but the Gjerdrum municipality, where Ask is located, is known for having a lot of quick clay, a material that can change from solid to liquid form. Experts said the substance of the clay combined with excessive precipitation and the damp weather typical for Norway at this time of year may have contributed to the landslide.
Norwegian authorities in 2005 warned people not to construct residential buildings in the area, but houses were eventually built there later in the decade.
Spokeswoman Toril Hofshagen from the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate called the landslide unique in its destruction.
“Not since 1893 has there been a quick clay landslide of this dimension in Norway,” Hofshagen told the media on Saturday.