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Wednesday, February 24, 1999 Published at 05:27 GMT

World: Europe

Ski resort hit again

Volunteers clear snow from a roof amid chaos in the Austrian Alps

Rescue teams have been working through the night in the Austrian Alps in a search for survivors of two huge avalanches that have devastated a ski resort.

The authorities say 18 people died in the first avalanche in the resort of Galtuer on Tuesday. Two died in a nearby village, Valzur, when a 200 metre-wide avalanche engulfed three chalets on Wednesday. Many people are still missing under the snow.

David Shukman in Landeck, Austria: "More avalanches are likely"
Reports say the victims in Galtuer included eight German and two Danish tourists and six local Austrians.

Austrian helicopters, braving near lethal weather conditions, delivered several hundred rescue workers to the resort and evacuating the wounded and the shocked.

However, nightfall and the resumption of heavy snow severely hampered rescue efforts.

Digging with bare hands

Specialist rescue squads were unable to reach Galtuer until Wednesday morning - 16 hours after the avalanche - because of the atrocious weather.

George Eykyn reports from "what must be the busiest heliport in Europe"
Villagers had spent the night frantically digging with their bare hands to find those still buried below tons of snow.

Experts say the chance of finding survivors declines rapidly after the first 15 minutes.

On its Website on Wednesday, the village thanked everyone who had shown sympathy and gave an address for donations.

Roads blocked

[ image: The injured are being evacuated out by helicopter]
The injured are being evacuated out by helicopter
The avalanche near Galtuer was the village's first in living memory and the town did not have avalanche barriers.

The fall occurred simultaneously on either side of the small village and only came to rest outside the church after destroying four buildings.

Roads are blocked, and most phone lines are down.

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

Other Austrian avalanches kill three

Tens of thousands of tourists are trapped in resorts across the region because of snow falls.

In Austria, three other people have died in avalanches and about 20,000 people have been stranded.

In Italy, a snow slide tore through the village of Morgex near the Swiss-French border killing one woman and injuring four people.

[ image: Austrian and Swiss resorts are experiencing severe avalanches]
Austrian and Swiss resorts are experiencing severe avalanches
And Swiss rescue workers have now found nine bodies in the resort of Evolene after an avalanche swept away nine chalets.

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 UK Foreign Office telephone number for anyone worried about relatives in the area is 0171 270 3000.

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