Tuesday, 21 August 2007

It's Raning Again

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Photo of the Schoolhouse in Olten, Kanton Solothurn, Switzerland

Yesterday lunch time it started raining, but it has only rained once since then and it is still raining. Switzerland is gradually sinking. It’s a small country, so it doesn’t need much. If you think you are safe in the mountains because they are higher, then this is a mistake. More and more holiday chalets are being built in the tourist areas, but the mountains are not really there to live on, but more to visit. The result is when it really starts pouring down the earth starts moving and a landslide develops. There have been many houses buried by the avalanche of earth that covers them.

The area where I live is near a river but we are fairly high up and the River Aare floods very rarely in our region, although a few people where I live have water in their cellars at the moment. Nothing dramatic, but not exactly to be wished for. The towns of Olten and Aarau are quite badly hit and certain areas have been evacuated. The holiday villages of Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen are cut off from civilisation due to landslides which have blocked the roads.

Seeing all this flooding I was reminded of two years ago when Kandersteg and the area around the Lake of Brienz was badly hit. At that time my son was doing his annual military service. All fit sons of the Swiss are in the Swiss army and have to do 3 weeks a year. They are fully equipped with uniform, rifle and boots made for walking (at least 25 Km marches are made with the recruits – the officers have to do a 50 Km march). Anyhow, my son was doing his service in a place called Bière in the French speaking part of Switzerland high up in the Jura highlands as artillerist where they have the big tanks, although he is in charge of the office logistic and accounts. As every good soldier is, he went to the barracks to sleep about 11.30 in the evening as the men were relaxing in the local restaurant and quenching their thirst until then. It had been raining for some time, although up in the Jura they didn’t notice any dangers.

He had been sleeping for approximately an hour when the commanding officer came in and woke him and a few hundred others. They had to get their equipment packed within 30 minutes and all their belongings and were put onto lorries and driven down to Kandersteg where there was severe flooding. My son had to make the journey in a car with one of the officers as he had to get there before the rest to organise the army logistic. He said that part wasn’t fun as the officer with him had also only had about an hour’s sleep, but they arrived ok at about 3-4 in the morning. He then had to do the paperwork and organisation of the office. You can’t just move 300 soldiers to a mountain village in the middle of the night without having some organisation. At around 7.00 in the morning the officer asked him how much sleep he had had, and after my son told him about one hour, he had to command to go to bed, which he wasn’t sorry about.

During the 2 weeks they were in Kandersteg they helped to clear the debris that the water had left behind and generally tidy up. My son had never seen anything like it and it made a lasting impression on him. He said they were knee deep in mud most of the time and how tragic it was to see people that had lost their homes and possessions. If you opened the door to a house left standing from the water, you were confronted with mud and wood piled up to the roof. One thing he told us that we never forgot was the generosity of the people living there. If the soldiers went to a café for something to drink they were never presented with a bill. The village inhabitants were so grateful for the hard work the soldiers were doing that it was the only way they could thank them. My son said afterwards that it was the first time he had done his military service and felt that there was a reason for doing it.

It is still raining, but the news says it will soon stop. The situation is now improving in some places, although that really means it isn’t getting worse. A lot of people won’t be sleeping in their homes tonight if they still have a home. I know a lot of countries have had bad floods lately, thinking of England, the weather has been a bit crazy this year.