Avalanches and lightning strikes
The research showed that over the period in question 1,023 people were killed
in the course of 635 natural events. More than a third of all these fatalities
were caused by avalanche accidents, with lightning strikes as the second most
common cause of death, claiming 164 lives. Over the past 70 years the numbers of
deaths caused by both types of event have clearly fallen, and this fact also explains
the general drop in the number of victims. The main reason for this improvement is
intensive research into avalanches, which has greatly improved their prediction.
Other reasons include added protective structures and better hazard maps.
The number of accidents caused by debris flows, landslides, flooding, rockfalls
and storms remained roughly stable.
In a worldwide comparison, the number of deaths in Switzerland caused by natural hazards
is lower than average. "Nevertheless, the Swiss population's awareness of the risks of
flooding, in particular, could be raised, so that even more lives can be saved in the future",
says geographer Norina Andres, another co-author of the study.
Major disasters are rare
Over the past millennium, Switzerland has repeatedly experienced major natural disasters
causing hundreds of fatalities, like the earthquake that hit Basel in 1356 or the landslide
in Goldau in 1806. But Switzerland was spared any such events over the last 70 years.
The biggest disaster over that period occurred in 1965, when 88 people were killed by
an ice avalanche during construction work on the Mattmark dam in the canton of Valais.
Avalanches in Reckingen (VS) in the winter of 1970 claimed 30 lives, and 19 more died
in those occurring in Vals (GR) in January 1951.