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Wednesday, February 24, 1999 Published at 00:44 GMT

World: Europe

Avalanche buries Austrian town

More than 20 people have been killed in avalanches in recent weeks

At least eight people have been killed after twin avalanches hit the small town of Galtuer in the Alps in western Austria.

Katya Adler reports from Vienna: Small avalanches are falling every two minutes
It is thought that more than 25 others are still trapped under snow, but even before night fell, the rescue operation was being hampered by bad weather and fading light.

Rescue workers and volunteers armed with snow shovels managed to save 23 people buried by the avalanche.

Twelve army helicopters are on standby in the Tyrolean Alps, together with search teams and sniffer dogs.

The BBC's Liz Mackean reports "some of the worst conditions in living memory"
Flying was curtailed soon after the avalanche because of the heavy falling snow and increasingly poor visibility as night fell.

Roads to the area have been blocked, and most phone lines are down.

Lack of medical facilities

Some of those rescued alive are believed to require more medical help than is available at the site. There is no hospital in the town and only one doctor in the rescue crew.

Authorities are seeking medical experts among the thousands of Austrian and foreign tourists trapped in the area.

First avalanche in living memory

This is the first avalanche near Galtuer in living memory and the town did not have avalanche barriers.

[ image: Rescue helicopters cannot fly because of adverse weather]
Rescue helicopters cannot fly because of adverse weather
The fall occurred simultaneously on either side of the small village and only came to rest outside the church after destroying four buildings.

Five other buildings were hit near the centre of the resort, and some roads were covered in up to five metres of snow.

The vibrations also triggered off a small avalanche at a neighbouring resort where tourists were evacuated in time.

The Mayor of Ishgl, another town in the immediate area, has asked for all his residents and tourists to be evacuated by air as soon as possible.

The area has experienced the heaviest snowfall for half a century, and is on high avalanche alert.

Other Austrian avalanches kill three

In another avalanche on Tuesday a 35-year-old German woman was killed when a snowslide ploughed into a chalet in Sportgastein near Salzburg, burying several other people.

[ image: Austrian and Swiss resorts are experiencing severe avalanches]
Austrian and Swiss resorts are experiencing severe avalanches
A man and a woman both died on Monday when an avalanche buried a mountain restaurant near Gargellen in Austria's westernmost Vorarlberg province.

The man was still alive when found, but bad weather prevented an emergency flight to a hospital and he died later of his injuries.

Around 20,000 people have now been trapped for several days in resorts around western Austria.

Treacherous conditions

In other parts of Europe, avalanches have also been wreaking chaos and claiming lives.

[ image:
"Three people have died in this gully - please don't be the last"
Thousands of people had to be evacuated from Alpine villages in central Switzerland, and in Italy, a snowslide tore through the village of Morgex near the Swiss-French border killing one woman and injuring four people.

Swiss rescue workers have now found seven bodies after an avalanche swept away nine chalets in southern Switzerland. Three people are still missing.

The treacherous weather conditions are expected to continue until at least Thursday, prompting the UK Foreign Office to issue a warning to skiers.

A spokesman said: "The Alps are experiencing the worst conditions for many years and this situation is likely to continue for several more weeks."

The Foreign Office has issued a telephone number for anyone worried about relatives who may be in the area. The number is 0171 270 3000.

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