101.7 FM IN GENEVA DAB+, CABLE & SATELLITE ACROSS SWITZERLAND
“This regional train is traveling on a stretch of track between Frutigen and Kandersteg popping in and out of tunnels. When you pop out, you can see the peaks of the valley along side you—you have to look straight up. But this stretch of track, along with many others in the Bernese Oberland and Upper Valais, was shut down directly after the traumatic flooding that happened.”
Kandersteg is a known tourist spot, relying on tourist money to keep its summer and winter offerings flush with cash. Despite dramatic images of flood waters rushing through this and near-by valleys, no one was hurt, and the village was untouched..
Q: “So here in the town, actually…”
FRITZ JOST: “Nothing, there was nothing, there was nothing, nothing.”
Fritz Jost is a local businessman, and emergency response coordinator for Kandersteg.
Q: “Have you noticed, I mean, are tourists concerned, at all? Do they ask about it?”
JOST: “Yeah, yeah. And also Swiss people think, ‘Oh, Kandersteg, 20 million (Francs) of damage, what is going on there? Can we have the walks? Can we go with the gondola? Can we go in the Kastern Valley?’ Yes they can. They will…in next summer it will all operate and everything is fine.”
Whether things would be fine wasn’t clear even a week after the flooding. Waters washed out internet service, and severed rail and roadways. Driving through Kandersteg, Jost mentions again and again the town was not overcome with water. Had it rained 50 minutes longer than it did, the story might be a different one.
JOST: “Over here you have the 3 colors. Below is the blue one: If the water is not as high as the blue, everything is okay. Then you have the yellow one: if the blue one vanishes, we have to protect the buildings. And when we see only the red one, then it’s alarm. It’s the highest one. But between the first call, vanishing the blue one, and only seeing the red one was half an hour. So you can imagine, this was a rain coming once in 250 years.”
The last so-called “once in a century” flood came in 2005, but the water came on much more slowly. Last month saw dark waters and debris amass in hours instead of days or weeks. Jonathan Morgan is a program director at the Kandersteg International Scout Center. Flood waters briefly knocked out a bridge connecting two parts of the camp.
MORGEN: “The day of the flood itself we were pretty busy just making sure everything was okay over here. And then the day after, we had a big group of Spanish at the time, who were coming…they are a work party; they come twice a year to just to do some work around out campsite. And we went with some of our staff, and them, into the village and helped do some clearing up, some pumping, and moving of sandbags and that sort of thing.”
Morgen says the camp was more or less quickly back to normal, with the lack of internet as the biggest inconvenience. Outside of the village, signs of reconstruction are still obvious.
A tunnel built for avalanche protection became home to a tributary during the flood. The true river bed was overrun, and workers have tried to move debris and carve a safer path for the water with machinery. Some residents can cross the river by way of a temporary bridge—the longest the army has ever built, says emergency coordinator Fritz Jost.
JOST: “I think we are prepared for a 100 year high water, but we hope that it will not come as frequently as it seems now that it comes.”
Jost says Kandersteg is ready for tourists, and the area will be in fine-shape for the next Summer season. But there is still a concern in the background for the effects of climate change, and preparing for unpredictable weather to come.