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Wednesday, February 24, 1999 Published at 11:44 GMT


'Carry on skiing' - UK tour firms

Thousands of tourists are trapped

British tour companies say they have no plans to cancel ski trips in spite of the dangerous conditions and heavy snowfalls around resorts all over Europe.

Laurence Hicks of Inghams: "We are the best judge on whether it is appropriate for people to travel"
Up to 100,000 people are trapped in ski resorts after the biggest series of avalanches in memory resulted in death and destruction in mountain ranges across Europe.

About 20,000 British winter sports enthusiasts are thought to be stranded in Alpine resorts.

[ image: The weather has caused chaos]
The weather has caused chaos
Holidaymakers and residents in the village of Galtuer in the Austrian Alps dug frantically through the night, hoping to find about 30 people believed buried under tons of snow.

The death toll there stands at 10 but is expected to rise as heavy snow hampers rescue efforts.

'Uneasy calm'

A British tourist trapped in Galtuer said there was "a kind of uneasy calm punctuated by the arrival of military helicopters".

Chris Laming, who is on holiday in the region with his family, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Just after it happened we were hit by a storm as well that didn't help, it just added to the gloom of the situation."

Mr Laming said he and his family were in the centre of the town, not far from the point of impact, when the avalanche hit.

"There was a ski race going on in the middle of the village, lots of music which may have masked the rumble," he said.

"We were in the hotel at the time. The windows of the hotel were hit by this amazing cloud of powder snow," said Mr Laming.

He and his family have been told to stay inside the hotel until the situation outside improves.

Foreign Office warning

The Foreign Office has warned prospective ski tourists about conditions in the Alps and issued an emergency telephone number for people worried they may have relatives caught in the avalanche. The number is (00 44+)171 839 1010.

[ image: The avalanche-hit village of Evolene]
The avalanche-hit village of Evolene
Keith Betton, head of corporate affairs at the Association of British Travel Agents, said all UK ski operators were believed to be operating normal schedules.

The Ski Club of Great Britain is telling tourists to carry on with their travel plans but to be ready for last-minute changes.

Managing Director Caroline Stuart-Taylor, said: "The tour operator may have to move [tourists] to a different resort."

Caroline Stuart-Taylor: "We're leaving it up to the tour operators"
Asked by the BBC whether this was a responsible attitude, she said the club had every faith in the tour companies.

"We think it's best to leave it in the hands of the tour operators who are very closely in touch with the local security services in the resort. They are the people who really know what's going on on the ground," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Customers concerned

Phone lines to many ski companies have been very busy with customers calling to find out about bookings and relatives on the slopes.

Diane Palumbo, of Ski World, based in west London, said Austrian resorts were worst hit by the weather.

The BBC's Matthew Flintoff talks to staff at London's Ski World company
She told BBC Radio 5 Live that St Anton and Verbier had seen the heaviest amounts of snow. "So far everybody is safe though," she said.

Nevertheless, the torrential snowfalls were exciting experienced skiers keen to get out onto the slopes.

She added: "The safety of our guests is absolutely paramount, so we always follow the advice of the authorities. If they tell us there is any danger, clients are moved immediately."

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23 Feb 99 | World
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