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Rudi Kiefer: Landslides could possibly affect some tourist locations
Rudi Kiefer
Just like in 2004, Indonesia got a nasty Christmas surprise this year.

In the eastern Indian Ocean, just 98 miles from Jakarta’s city center, Krakatoa volcano has punctuated human history many times. In August of 1883, its massive eruption killed more than 36,000 people.

Two weeks ago, another eruption replayed a scenario that we saw at Mt. St. Helens in Washington in 1980. The blast loosened the slopes of the volcano, triggering an enormous landslide. The only water body at Mount St. Helens was Spirit Lake, not large enough for a devastating wave.

But Krakatoa is surrounded by ocean water. When two-thirds of the mountain collapsed into it, the splash waves quickly reached land. The big islands, Sumatra and Java, are separated by the Sunda Strait, where the water piled up to cause the most destruction. Between 400 and 500 lives were lost.

Landslides are inherently dangerous. One only needs to think back to the one in Oso, Washington, in 2014, which destroyed 49 homes and killed almost as many people.

But where a slide crashes into water, the resulting waves have an even more powerful effect.

The town of Longarone, Italy, will forever be marked by the event of Oct. 9, 1963. Longarone is in a gorgeous part of the Alps, 45 road miles south of Cortina d’Ampezzo, the site of the 1956 Winter Olympics. The Vaiont Dam held a large reservoir above the main valley in which the town sits.

Northern Italy is notorious for earthquake-related instability, so great care had been taken to prevent any kind of dam breakage. In 1963, nearby Monte Toc mountain produced a landslide, which splashed into the lake. The dam held. But a wave topped it by 400 feet, crashing into the heavily populated valley and taking 2,000 lives.

This is unlikely to happen here at Lake Lanier because it isn’t bordered by tall mountains. But I have uneasy feelings about some places in North Carolina.
Fontana Lake campground, for example, sits below the 500-foot tall dam, just half a mile down the valley, with nearby mountains rising 1,100 feet above lake level.

Landslides are common in western North Carolina. The October 2009 landslide that closed I-40 was only one county away from the lake. Even though North Carolina’s towns aren’t built directly below major dams, some of the tourist spots deserve additional thought.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays.

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