Snjóflóð

31 01 2013

All in all, the years of 1994 and 1995 were bad years for the inhabitants of the Westfjords.The first catastrophe was in Tungudalur April 5th 1994. The avalanche fell outside of the town of Ísafjörður, in an area where evacuation would not have been considered. As often before it fell across the skiing area (which has been moved), then continued across a minor slope and down a steeper one into the valley Tungudalur. The avalanche destroyed 40 summer cottages and killed one person. Luckily this was just after Easter and most of the people who had been staying in the cottages had  recently left. Only 4 remained that night.

January 15th 1995, following a long bout of heavy snowfall and general bad weather, an avalanche struck the small town of Súðavík, demolishing 20 houses and killing a total of 14 people. This event came as a surprise to the people of the Westfjords and horrified them. The worst, however, was yet to come.

On the morning of October 26th that same year, another avalanche struck, this time devastating the equally small town of Flateyri (now a mere 30-minute drive from Súðavík). Some 500,000 tons of wet snow build-up crept from the ravine Skollahvilft (literally: “Demon’s gully”), destroying close to thirty buildings and killing 20 people.

These events came as a shock to most Icelanders, serving as a reminder of just how dependent they still were on the mercy of nature. Much grief and soul-searching followed. The inhabitants of the Westfjords, now began to realize they lived an extremely unsafe, even uninhabitable, area. Following the devastation of the town, close to 100 people left for good, many not able to cope with the memories of tragedy and others left with no reason to stay. A hundred people moving away may not seem a lot for the average American, but for a town that in its heyday counted about 500 inhabitants, it was catastrophic.

The high school students in Ísafjarðarbær  made these presentations. In their own words…

In addition to the avalanches in 1995, a neighboring town, Hnifsdalur, was also struck by an avalanche in 1910.

Today, there is a great deal of research and avalanche protections. These avalanches made it clear that a substantial number of people in several Icelandic towns and villages live in areas where avalanche risk is unacceptable. Although extensive evacuations may be used to reduce the risk to some extent, this can only be viewed as a temporary measure. Avalanche protective measures or land use changes are necessary for a permanent solution to this problem. Protective measures against snow- and landslides are widely used to improve the safety of settlements in avalanche-prone areas.

The inverted V-shaped structure is a man made deflection dam to protect the town of Flateryi.

The inverted V-shaped structure is a man made deflection dam to protect the town of Flateyri. Nearly half the town of Súðavík was moved to areas that are not avalanche prone.

In use in Ísafjarður are avalanche walls, braking mounds and avalanche dams to divert the flow of avalanches away from houses. Sometimes it is more efficient to relocate homes or have summer only homes. The conditions for the reconstruction of the cottages in Tungudalur were that they would not be used during the winter time.

In use in Ísafjarður are this 18m tall avalanche wall (foreground), braking mounds (“moguls” in background) and avalanche dams to divert the flow of avalanches away from houses (horizontal slope in front of mounds). Sometimes it is more efficient to relocate homes or have summer only homes. The conditions for the reconstruction of the cottages in Tungudalur were that they would not be used during the winter time.





See-re-os!

30 01 2013

Yep,that is how Icelanders say it! There is no equivalent to the “ch” sound (ask my housemate Charla!). No worries, they taste the same.

This is not your normal Cheerios box!

This is not your normal American Cheerios box!

Why eat food, when you can play with it?

Why eat food, when you can play with it?





On again, Off again.

29 01 2013

The power has been intermittent since the weekend, with a few long outages. Thanks to some gale force winds that have been whistling through town, shaking the houses and apparently blowing down transmission lines.

A little candle light will brighten the evening!

A little candle light will brighten the evening!

Most of the town electricity is being supplied by diesel generators and this happens about 5% of the year (but it is 20% of the region’s power budget). And it is Iceland, where energy is usually renewable and cheap… so no one really knows how to conserve! So the further you are from critical infrastructure, the more likely you are to be without power (since there isn’t enough to go around).





Got coctail sauce?

28 01 2013

Last week we got to visit the KAMPI prawn processing factory. It was like Willy Wonka’s factory for shrimp!

At the peak of production in Iceland, there were 27 companies processing shrimp… primarily by hand! Ísafjörður was the first Icelandic town with a factory in 1934. Today there are only 5 factories and there are 40 employees at the Kampi factory.

Since shrimp can be eaten straight out of the package, we go to wear these lovely suits, hair nets, and booties! And we got to see the high risk areas and follow the entire process (eating shrimp at every step).

P1040051

The first thing we did after leaving the conference room was put on special shoes, another hat, wash our hands, and sanitize them!

The factory owns 3 boats, Gunnbjörn, Valbjörn , and the factory freezer Isbjörn. These boats cannot supply enough raw material for the factory. There is not eveb enough domestic raw product, so frozen prawns are bought on the market from foreign companies (although it is all marketed as a ‘Product of Iceland’).

kampi2

Here come the prawns, to be sorted by size then cooked in 20kg batches. We got to eat a raw one – a female with eggs!

 After cooking, the prawns then get peeled between steel rollers before being tossed around, and then blown so the remaining shell comes off.

The factory processes 5 tons per day! And the conveyer belts are running everywhere: overhead, under you, and right along side.

The factory processes 5 tons per day! And the conveyer belts are running everywhere: overhead, under you, and right along side.

The prawns continue along the line and every single one gets photographed. The rejects get blown back and repeat the peeling process.

This is the final inspection before packaging! The green belt makes it easier to see imperfections... and I think that I almost got a job. It is surprisingly fun!

This is the final inspection before packaging! The green belt makes it easier to see imperfections… and I think that I almost got a job. It is surprisingly fun!

It is amazing, the factory uses 2 tons of water per minute – none of the water can be reused and lucky for the company the water can be discharged untreated! It is so pink you can see it on Google Earth next to the harbor.

Just after the brine glaze is applied. It protects them and turns a 6 day shelf life into 3 months.

Just after inspection the brine glaze is applied. It protects the prawns and turns a 6 day shelf life into 3 months.

The factory mostly sells 5 or 10kg bulk bags and prawns in several sizes. Before being shipped out they go through a metal detector and over a scale. Quality control is very important and tests occur several times per day.

This is an automatic sorting machine that has a series of buckets that weigh out prawns, to the exact specifications of the customer.

This is an automatic sorting machine that has a series of buckets that weigh out prawns, to the exact specifications of the customer.

Only 40% of the prawn is meat, and the remaining is shell and waste. The shell waste is turned into prawn meal. Like most industries in Iceland there is little waste, and this meal turns up in protein shakes and cosmetics. Or you can just buy prawns for your next meal…

Look for Kampi prawns in your supermarket (primarily the UK). They are MSC eco-certified and fairtrade.

Look for Kampi prawns in your supermarket (primarily the UK). They are MSC eco-certified and fairtrade.





It is Easy to Get the Numbers Wrong

27 01 2013

Why do Europeans use commas instead of decimal points? – This is the question I have been wondering since I got here!

They use periods between the hundreds and thousands place, and a comma between the whole number and the tenths.

2,50 versus 2.50

or

350.000 versus 350,000

all together

25.500,00 versus 25,000.00
Full Stop "." – Blue

Full Stop “.” – Blue
Comma “,” – Green
Eastern Arabic numerals – Red
Data unavailable – Grey

The answer is… there is no international standard and countries choose the the decimal mark and the thousands spectator based on historical usage. To me this is all quite confusing.





July in January

26 01 2013
As a welcome back party, we had a beach bash! It may be icy outside but it was all summer inside.

As a welcome back party, we had a beach bash! It may be icy outside but it was all summer inside.





Hello, Goodbye

25 01 2013

On the darkest day of the year, December 22, the sun rose at 12:10 pm and set at 2:53 pm in Ísafjörður! And the whole town has been without direct sunlight for 2 months. But today is Sólardagur, the day the sun returns!!!

Oh, glorious day!

Oh, glorious day! The first sunrise in 2 months. But the sun only lingered on the horizon for a few seconds!

For more than 100 years, the locals have celebrated the day when the sun’s rays reach out again, down to  Sólgötu (Sun Road). This is of course, weather permitting. As the sun moves through town, people move house to house having sólarkaffi and rjómapönnukökur (cream pancakes) to celebrate.

Tradidional cream pancakes and enough for an army (3kg flour, 1L cream, 1 jar jam)!

Traditional cream pancakes and enough for an army (200) with 3kg flour, 1L cream, and 1 jar jam! Takk fyrir Gunna Sigga.