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A rock slide threatened to crush this Swiss village. It missed by a just few metres

The residents of Brienz, Switzerland, breathed a sigh of relief this week as a massive rock slide they feared would destroy their village missed it by just a few metres.

'We were all very, very happy,' says municipal spokesperson

A small village pictured from above with a handful of roads, and church and a cluster of houses. To the left, a massive pile of rocks and sandy debris that stops just before the village starts.

The residents of Brienz, Switzerland, breathed a sigh of relief this week as a massive rock slide they feared would destroy their village missed it by just a few metres.

The picturesque mountainside community has been evacuated since May 12, as residents waited anxiously for the rock slide that geologists warned was imminent.

But when an estimated 1.2 to 1.5 million cubic metres of rock finally broke away overnight Thursday and tumbled down the mountainside, it stopped just at the edge of the local school house, leaving the village unscathed.

"The village was incredibly lucky," municipal spokesperson Christian Gartmann told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. "We were all very, very happy."

WATCH | The rock slide that narrowly missed a village:

Before and after video shows overnight rock slide near Swiss village

12 hours ago

Duration 0:46

This footage filmed on June 15 and 16 shows the aftermath of a large rock slide in Switzerland that narrowly missed the evacuated village of Brienz.

It could just as easily have destroyed everything.

"It has been a big relief for [the residents] because they had been around for six weeks waiting impatiently for something to happen," Gartmann said.

"They knew something would happen eventually. They didn't know what. And it has been incredibly hard and painful for them."'

An aerial shot shows a small schoolhouse metres away from a massive pile of rocks.

Geologists had predicted that some 1.9 million cubic metres of rock were at risk of breaking away. About two-thirds of that appears to have come down the slope on Thursday night, geologist Stefan Schneider said at a news conference.

"This is very good news, because the danger … to the village has become much smaller," he said.

Residents have been waiting in nearby villages on the outskirts of Brienz, returning only two at a time for 90-minute intervals to retrieve essential items from their homes.

When the rock slide began, they were close enough to hear it, Gartmann said. But it was the dead of night and pitch black, so even with cameras monitoring the mountain, they had to wait until morning to get a clear picture of the aftermath.

A man in a bright red rain jacket gestures with both arms towards news cameras as he stands in the middle of a small, blocked off road, a mountain visible behind him.

In the light of day, when they found the village intact, it was "one of the best days since the evacuation began," said Daniel Albertin, the head of the local council.

"The wait for the mountain was long. But now the mountain has come down as we envisioned," he said.

'There is no other place they want to live'

The 12th-century village in the municipality of Albula/Alvra has fewer than 100 residents and is perched at an altitude of 1,150 metres.

Its central church is more than 500 years old and full of art and other items of immense historical significance, all of which were moved away for safekeeping in light of the looming disaster, Gartmann said.

He says people there have been dealing with rocks sliding down the nearby mountainside since "forever, actually" — but nothing quite on this scale.

"They don't know anything else," he said. "But now the acceleration of this rockfall has been tremendous."

The municipality has looked into the possibility of building a dam to protect the village from the rock slides, but determined it would have to be 20 storeys to work.

"You don't want to have something like that in the Swiss Alps," he said.

A small village pictured from above with just a handful of roads, and church and a cluster of houses. Behind it is a mountain covered in conifer trees and rock.

Despite the threat, he says there's nowhere else the people of Brienz would rather be.

"Most of the families have been living there for many generations. It's a historic little village. It's a Heidi village, if you want to call it that," Gartmann said, referring to the world-famous children's novel about a little girl living in the Swiss Alps with her grandfather.

"People really love it there. And it is a beautiful place. It's the most romantic and beautiful place in the Swiss Alps, you could imagine. And they are very, very bound or very, very rooted there, and there is no other place they want to live."

But while the worst appears to be out of the way, folks can't return home just yet.

"The people of Brienz will still have to be a bit patient before they can move back," Albertin said. "We have to carry out further evaluations before we can give them enough security to be able to move back to their village and continue living or working there."

With files from The Associated Press. Interview with Christian Gartmann produced by Antonia Reed

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