Swiss village of Brienz evacuated over risk of imminent rockslide

Village of Brienz in front of the zone of rockslide

The village of Brienz and its church at the foot of a mountainside rockfall

Residents of a tiny Swiss village have all been evacuated because of the risk of an imminent rockslide.

Brienz’s fewer than 100 villagers were given just 48 hours to pack what they could and abandon their homes.

Even the dairy cows were loaded up for departure after geologists warned a rockfall was imminent.

Two million cubic metres of rock is coming loose from the mountain above, and a rockslide could obliterate the village.

The development has raised questions about the safety of some mountain communities, as global warming changes the alpine environment.

A church in front of the rockslide zone

The rock has been shifting since the Ice Age, but scientists say the pace has accelerated

Brienz, in the eastern canton of Graub√ľnden, is now empty.

The village has been judged a geological risk for some time and is built on land that is subsiding down towards the valley, causing the church spire to lean and large cracks to appear in buildings.

Village of Brienz in front of the zone of rockslide

Some rocks have already fallen down the mountainside

A view shows a crack on a building, in the village of Brienz

A view shows a crack on a building, in the village of Brienz

As the minutes ticked towards the deadline to leave, even Brienz’s dairy cows were being taken to safety.

The residents, some young, some old, families, farmers and professional couples, had two days to abandon their homes.

They were asked earlier this week to evacuate the village by Friday evening.

A man photographs Renato Liesch, a resident of Brienz/Brinzauls beneath the 'Brienzer Rutsch' who is driving away as the village is being evacuated

Renato Liesch, a resident of Brienz, is photographed beneath a village sign before he drives away from his home

The mountainside

The mountainside on Friday when all villages were asked to abandon their homes

Switzerland’s Alpine regions are especially sensitive to global warming – as the permafrost high in the mountains begins to thaw, the rock becomes more unstable.

This particular mountain has always been unstable, but recently the rock has been shifting faster and faster.

Days of heavy rain could bring two million cubic metres of loosened rock crashing down the mountainside onto the village, scientists warned.

Now the villagers must wait, in temporary accommodation, for the rock to fall – and hope it misses their homes.

A road block in front of the village Brienz

A road block sits in front of the village Brienz