THE TAFJORD ACCIDENT IN 1934

Already from around 1870 the population in Fjørå were aware of the fact that a long fracture parallel to the fjord in a mountain area called Langhammaren, on the northeast side of Tafjorden, was widening. This was, however, not common knowledge to the population in Tafjord.

By Geologist Christer Hoel, M.Sc.
Read more: Rock Avalanches in the Fjords

Every year it became a little wider, and in 1930 it was as wide as 1.5 meter. Furthermore, a fracture perpendicular to this in the NW had developed. Even more often rock falls took place from Langhammaren, particularly in March and the beginning of April in 1934.

 

Tafjord in 1926.
Tafjord in 1926.

 

Map showing Tafjord and Fjørå in the inner Sunnmøre district.
Map showing Tafjord and Fjørå in the inner Sunnmøre district.

Among the population in Tafjord and Fjørå it was expected that Langhammaren would fall down some day, but the full consequences of this were not foreseen.

At 03.10 in the night on the 7. of April 1934 the population in Tafjord woke up by the sound of a gigantic boom as from an enormous explosion, and the ground was shaking. What had happened was that Langhammaren had fallen down from 730 meters above sea level, pushing a large scree called Heggurda in front of it downwards and into the fjord. In all 3 million cubic meters of rock went into the fjord, creating a wave which reached 63.5 meters on the other side, and then split into one tsunami moving inwards and another tsunami moving outwards the fjord.

In the darkness people were confused, but after a while large waves of sea water flowed with tremendous force inwards land in Tafjord and Fjørå. Three waves occurred, of which the last was the largest. It has been estimated that the last wave reached Tafjord with the speed of 160 meters pr. hour. In Tafjord the waves were up to 17 meters high, reaching up to 300 meters inwards land, crushing houses and other buildings, moving large boats inwards land and killing 23 people. A complete chaos was created with high-voltage electric lines breaking together, people and animals screaming in desperation in the waves and houses, and even the nerve-racking continuous sound from a short-circuited hooter onboard a boat which had been lifted a long distance inwards land.

 

Tafjord after the accident.

 

In Fjørå the waves were up to 13 meters high, crushing houses and other buildings and even removing the soil almost totally. 17 people lost their lives.

 

Fjørå before the accident.

 

Fjørå after the sea waves had come.

 

The waves created material damage up to 50 kilometers away and could be noticed on a distance of up to 100 kilometers, that means in large parts of the Sunnmøre district.

In Tafjord only eight out of the 23 casualties were ever found, in Fjørå only three out of 17. Divers were sent down, but could not achieve much.

Only one person was seriously injured and was sent to hospital.

The slide scar the day after the avalanche took place.
The slide scar the day after the avalanche took place.

The Tafjord accident in 1934 was the first accident of its kind in Norway that was covered by broadcasting and newspapers from not only different parts of Norway but also many other countries in the world. Planes which could land on water arrived with journalists.

The covering by media contributed to the high level of sympathy from the world around. Many wanted to help, both officials, institutions and ordinary people.

Geologic research in the fjord Tafjorden has revealed that several rock avalanches have taken place along this fjord during the thousands of years since the last Ice Age, as is also the case in e.g. the fjord Geirangerfjorden. An avalanche as big as the 1934 avalanche had also happened before in Tafjorden and could possibly happen again. Therefore the adjacent mountain area Heggurdaksla is now under continuous surveillance.

 

Front page of the newspaper “Aftenposten” covering the accident.
Front page of the newspaper “Aftenposten” covering the accident.

 

On the way from Tafjord to the funeral. Each coffin was covered with a Norwegian flag.
On the way from Tafjord to the funeral. Each coffin was covered with a Norwegian flag.

 

3-D image of the fjord Tafjorden showing the shape of the submarine landscape where the rock avalanche took place and adjacent areas, and the shape.
3-D image of the fjord Tafjorden showing the shape of the submarine landscape where the rock avalanche took place and adjacent areas, and the shape of the landscape above water. The result of the 1934 rock avalanche can clearly be seen.

 

The settlements in Tafjord and Fjørå recovered after the accident. Even soil was bought, transported with boat to the settlements and distributed out over the areas where the waves had washed the soil away. These efforts were expensive and time-consuming, but showed the will people had to repair the damages and go on in life.

The road to Tafjord was opened in 1982. Before that, ferry was used for transport of people and vehicles.

 

View down the slide scar in 1934. Photo State Geologist Arne Bugge, NGS.
View down the slide scar in 1934. Photo: State Geologist Arne Bugge, NGS.

 

Langhammaren with the slide scar of the 1934 event.
Langhammaren with the slide scar of the 1934 event.

 

3-D image showing the rock avalanche deposits in the fjord. View towards the north.
3-D image showing the rock avalanche deposits in the fjord. View towards the north.

 

Tafjord in our time. The slide scar can be seen in the background.
Tafjord in our time. The slide scar can be seen in the background.

 

At the memorial in Tafjord in 2009, 75 years after the accident.
At the memorial in Tafjord in 2009, 75 years after the accident.

 

References

FJORDS – Useful Links:

Fjord Tours: Norway in a Nutshell
Fjord Tours: Plan and book fjord travel, accommodation and activities
Go Fjords: Big and Small Fjord Experiences
Fjord Pass: Great Discounts on Activities and Attractions in the Fjords
Visit Norway: Official page for Norway
Fjord Norway: Official page for Fjord Norway