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Lapland braces for worst spring flooding in 20 years

The highest flood levels in Finland's measurement history are predicted to hit the region's largest city of Rovaniemi. The cities of Tornio and Kittilä also expect extensive water damage.

Tornionjoki kaupungin keskustan tuntumassa.
Tornionjoki river is rising quickly Image: Risto Koskinen / Yle

The Finnish regions of Lapland and Saimaa are likely to see flooding in the coming weeks, as warm temperatures set spring thaws in motion. The Finnish Environment Institute's leading hydrologist Bertel Vehviläinen says that current data point to the worst flooding in 20 years.

"Lapland sees flooding every spring, so this year is no exception in that respect, but it will be unusually fierce. Water levels may not reach record levels, but they will be very high," he says.

He reports that things are at their worst right now in the popular ski resort municipality of Kittilä, where water levels will pass the flood lines within the next 24 hours. The local ELY centre predicts that flooding there could rise to 70 centimetres past the damage threshold at its peak.

Vehviläinen predicts that flooding in Kittilä will cause roads north of the area to be closed and may necessitate limited evacuation.

Record flooding is also forecast for Lapland largest city of Rovaniemi, where flooding is expected to peak half-way through next week. The city last saw major flooding in 1993 and 1997.

Conscripts laying sandbags in Tornio

The situation is also critical in the northwest border city of Tornio. If the flood barriers cannot be fortified and elevated in time, the water of the Tornionjoki river is expected to rise above them. A few dozen conscripts have been dispatched to pile sandbags along the riverfront in the city centre.

The acute situation can be attributed to the rapid change in temperatures and records amounts of snow in Lapland this winter.

"If things were a bit cooler, it wouldn't be so bad, but now we've just had some bad luck. When you still have snow on the ground and are hit with 20 degree Celsius temperatures, the snow is definitely going to melt," Vehviläinen says.

Water levels in the eastern region of Saimaa are also expected to rise this spring, putting thousands of summer cottages at risk of flooding.

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