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. Massive landslide threatening homes in central Austria: authorities

by Staff Writers
Vienna (AFP) Dec 1, 2007
A massive landslide was threatening dozens of houses on the banks of Traunsee lake in central Austria, local authorities said Saturday.

The mass of rock and debris descending Traunstein mountain, near Gmunden, moved another 1.5 metres (5 feet) between Friday and Saturday, said Wolfgang Ebner, spokesman for the nearby city of Gmunden.

It had already moved several metres on Friday, causing authorities to evacuate about 40 residents, whose houses are in the path of the avalanche, as a safety precaution.

A lakeside road was also closed to traffic.

Gmunden mayor Heinz Koeppl warned that this could be the "landslide of the century" and said the moving mass of debris, about 500 metres long, 100 metres wide and 20 metres deep at certain points, could descend to the lake.

Some 40 people were working to contain the avalanche, the daily Oesterreich reported, and authorities were closely monitoring any movement, Koeppl said, but the situation remained critical.

"Trees standing in the middle of the ravine are under such pressure due to the landslide that they're bending and breaking one after the other," Ebner said.

He added: "The hydraulic shovel operators who are currently digging channels to drain the water from the ravine are in mortal danger."

Locals have known for decades about the moving mass of debris, which is estimated to measure between 250,000 and 500,000 cubic metres and weigh one million tonnes.

But the landslide only began moving more rapidly this week after accumulating thousands of cubic metres of rubble and mud every year.

The last massive landslide descended from Traunstein in 1910.

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