A demanding task
After six challenging days at the site of a terrible landslide in the small Norwegian village of Gjerdrum, which left ten people dead, reservists from the UTR-squadron at the Norwegian Home Guard’s district 2 could return home.
By: Ole Kristian Haagenrud/Norwegian Reserve Officer Association (NROF)
– Arriving at the scene and seeing it all… It was a punch to the guts. It was much larger then I’d pictured from the TV newscast. Seeing crushed houses several hundred meters from where they once stood was horrible. Knowing the site still contained missing people added to the horror, Petter Olafsson explained the day after being relieved.
Captain Olafsson told of a challenging mission for him and his soldiers.
Their main task was to guard the site and the evacuated area. This was necessary to prevent people entering the area affected by the landslide, putting themselves in danger, and to allow the rescue workers a calm work environment in the then ongoing rescue-operation.
The squadron also assisted the Red Cross in their work of entering houses left in a hurry, to rescue pets that had been left behind in the chaos.
– We sent two volunteers. One of them came back and said he took very light steps when he left the vehicle in the evacuated area. Also, seeing homes obviously left in panic must have been challenging, Olafsson said.
The six days were demanding for the soldiers. Plenty of rest was planned between shifts, as the mental pressure was so strong that risking physical fatigue was unwanted.
Captain Olafsson said that the support available for him and his men was very good. A dedicated team of medics and psychiatrists were present for mental debriefs and support.
– Those are resources still available to us. In addition, we have provided the soldiers with the opportunity of meeting up on digital platforms for debriefs.
– Talking about one’s experiences with wives and friends is one thing, but talking with those who actually were there with you, is another story. We had good routines on small debriefs after each shift, said Olafsson.
Impressed by locals
The Norwegian media coverage showed a great sense of hospitality and willingness to help among the locals. Volunteers helped out wherever they could, gathering clothes, food and other items for those evacuated.
The Home Guard squadron got a first-hand experience of the local
attitude. They were able to use a private villa as command centre and resting area, and locals provided a steady stream of cakes and coffee to the soldiers.
– That really says something about the people living there… It was them that had experienced a natural disaster, and several of those providing us with coffee or cakes on their own initiative, knew at least one of those missing. That really made an impression on us, and says a lot of the people of Gjerdrum, said Olafsson.
The efforts of Norway’s rescue-services were the centre of national attention in the days after December 30th, when Norway woke up to the news about the landslide. Captain Olafsson learned that he and his men would relieve another unit a few days later this day, and was told to get ready.
– The Chief of Defence and the Minister of Defence both visited us during the mission, which is something I greatly appreciated, said Olafsson.
The disaster brought the whole of Norway’s ‘total defence’ together, as both civilian, military and volunteers came together to resolve a crisis. According to captain Olafsson, the police did a great job of leading the rescue operation.
While the total defence concept worked flawlessly, there is no doubt about this being a demanding assignment for the soldiers and others doing their job in a area where ten people sadly died.