Finns helping to clear storm damage in Sweden
Language barrier overcome with sign language and occasional calls to girlfriends back home
By Mari Manninen in Hultsfred
The trunks of fir and pine trees lie crisscross on the ground, in a huge jumble. In the wake of a severe storm that passed through the Swedish municipality of Hultsfred in early January, there are more trees lying horizontally than standing upright.
The harvester driven by Antti Heinonen is ploughing through the thicket of logs. Checking to see if a trunk would break free from one angle, then another. The arm of the machine tears off the twigs and chops the trunk into smaller logs. The trunk will later be turned into planks, the tops of the trees into pulp.
All entrepreneur Immo Jätinvuori from Mietoinen can do is look on, as the forest tractor that transports the lumber to the side of the road has broken down. Jätinvuori is about to leave for Finland to collect spare parts. They come cheaper there.
Jätinvuori’s chain of forestry machines is one of several that have made their way to the area in Southern Sweden that was damaged by storm Gudrun. There are over 50 Finnish harvesters and 50 forest tractors in the region, as well as at least two hundred Finns working, says Simo Jaakkola from the Trade Association of Finnish Forestry and Earth Moving Contractors.
Jaakkola estimates that these Finnish entrepreneurs will gross a total of 30 million euros in Sweden. He believes that more Finns will still arrive in the region battered by the tempest.
The stint abroad is the first for Jätinvuori and his three employees. Their experiences after six weeks are positive. The Swedish forest company Södra, which ordered the work from the team, has already paid the first invoice without any complaints. The earnings are better than in Finland.
"The work is the same here as it is back home. Here there are problems with the language from time to time", Heinonen muses.
If there is a particularly tight spot, Jätinvuori calls his girlfriend in Finland, who then interprets over the phone.
The entrepreneur has grown fond of the Swedish attitude towards work. The men from Södra chat calmly despite the storm damage. Jätinvuori believes that Finnish forest companies would be extremely uptight about how much of the fallen timber can be salvaged.
"One reason for coming to Sweden was that we wanted to see how they work over here."
The team of four men works from six in the morning to ten at night, in two shifts. Heads hit pillows in a rented two-room flat in Hultsfred. The men visit Finland every other weekend.
According to Jätinvuori, the men have enjoyed their time in Sweden, except for the fact that they miss their girlfriends. He is considering whether or not to continue the contract with Södra from the end of April all the way to the summer.
Basically, there would be work to be done collecting the wood felled by the storm up until next year.
Finnish lumberjacks are also on site to clear up the damage of the squall. Before the treatment provided by a harvester, tree trunks must be severed from the roots with chainsaws, as the winds tore the trees down by the roots.
The work requires plenty of experience, as the tension in the trunks can sometimes cause the wood to snap back once they are cut.
"One guy flew several metres after a tree hit him in the leg. Luckily he had on protective boots. His leg just turned black and blue", recalls Aarne Rissanen, who has come to Hultsfred from the Pori region.
Deaths have even occurred during efforts to clear up storm damage.
Rissanen and Oulu native Sauli Laurila are pleased that they got real forest work. In Finland, they have had to make do working at odd jobs.
"Swedes would not do this work. One Swede would cut down the best trees from the edges of a lot and the other would watch over the campfire", Laurila jokes. Here the men need to climb over the piles of trees, or crawl underneath them. The snow soaks clothes all the way to the skin.
In addition to forest work skills, an outdoor spirit, and tenacity, the men need to know some Swedish in order to understand the orders that they are given.
Both have mastered the basics of the language, as they worked in Gothenburg in a factory for many years. "And if words are not enough, we use our hands instead", Rissanen explains.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 15.3.2005
More on this subject:
BACKGROUND: Part of wood left to rot in forests
Previously in HS International Edition:
Swedish storm damage also lowers timber price in Finland (13.1.2005)
Finnish power line experts airlifted to Sweden to help clear storm damage (12.1.2005)