Heavy snowfall in Alps leaves 7 dead, tourists stranded

German army soldiers clearing snow from the roof of a grammar school in Berchtesgaden, Germany. Drivers in Untertauern, Austria, putting snow chains on their car tyres on Monday as the authorities in Austria and southern Germany close roads because o
Drivers in Untertauern, Austria, putting snow chains on their car tyres on Monday as the authorities in Austria and southern Germany close roads because of heavy snowfall and avalanches. A 35km section of a highway in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, came to a complete standstill until early on Thursday, forcing hundreds of truck and car drivers to spend the night on the road. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
German army soldiers clearing snow from the roof of a grammar school in Berchtesgaden, Germany. Drivers in Untertauern, Austria, putting snow chains on their car tyres on Monday as the authorities in Austria and southern Germany close roads because o
German army soldiers clearing snow from the roof of a grammar school in Berchtesgaden, Germany. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
German army soldiers clearing snow from the roof of a grammar school in Berchtesgaden, Germany. Drivers in Untertauern, Austria, putting snow chains on their car tyres on Monday as the authorities in Austria and southern Germany close roads because o
A man using a snow blower on Thursday to clear snow on the platform of a train station in Berchtesgaden, Germany. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
German army soldiers clearing snow from the roof of a grammar school in Berchtesgaden, Germany. Drivers in Untertauern, Austria, putting snow chains on their car tyres on Monday as the authorities in Austria and southern Germany close roads because o
A snow plough clearing an area in Ramsau am Dachstein, Austria, on Tuesday. Austria is on its highest avalanche alert level. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Several regions declare emergencies; roads, railways, resorts closures paralyse tourism

BERLIN • Parts of Europe were hit by heavy snowfall, paralysing travel and tourism with conditions that left at least seven people dead.

Heavy snowfall and strong winds were projected to continue in Austria and southern parts of Germany until yesterday, bringing an additional 50cm of snow over 24 hours to parts of the Alps that have already seen as much as 300cm of snow over the past week.

Several regions have declared states of emergency as some roads, railways and ski resorts remain closed.

Hundreds of tourists and residents are cut off in Austria because of unusually high avalanche risks.

The weather has been so severe that helicopters that would usually be used for controlled avalanches are grounded.

North of the Austrian border, in the German state of Bavaria, many schools have closed and rail service on many lines has been cancelled.

RECORD SNOWFALL

In terms of amount of snow over 10 days, statistically this happens only every 30 to 100 years, depending on the region.

MR THOMAS WOSTAL, a spokesman for Austria's Central Meteorological Office, on the amount of snowfall in the region.

Avalanche warnings are active in most Alpine areas of the state, and the town of Miesbach declared a state of emergency on Monday.

Ongoing snowfall and icy roads caused 35km of a highway in Baden-Wurttemberg to come to a complete standstill until early on Thursday, forcing hundreds of truck and car drivers to spend the night on the road.

In the municipality of Jachenau, the fire brigade is keeping the local grocery store stocked since commercial trucks are unable to reach the area, according to Mr Oliver Platzer, a spokesman for the Bavarian Ministry of Interior.

Davos, Switzerland, where many world and business leaders are to gather for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at the end of the month, has reported nearly 63cm of snow.

While the amount of snow that has fallen in the past weeks varies widely from area to area, it is unusual for so much snow to fall over such an extended period of time, according to Mr Thomas Wostal, a spokesman for Austria's Central Meteorological Office.

"In terms of the amount of snow over 10 days, statistically this happens only every 30 to 100 years, depending on the region," he said.

Several ski stations in the regions of Styria, Upper and Lower Austria have also had to close.

Hohentauern, a village in the central part of the country, has been cut off since last Saturday.

 

Roughly 270 visitors, including about 60 children, are waiting for one of the two passes leading from the village to open again.

"The village is safe and we're keeping the streets clear," said Mr Franz Haas, owner of a hotel in Hohentauern. "The children are enjoying outdoor walks, tobogganing and the building of snowmen."

Fewer tourists than usual are staying in the village and there are farms nearby, so there is no shortage of food, Mr Haas said, adding that there is also enough gas to heat cabins and hotels for at least two more weeks.

Much of the country is on its highest avalanche alert level, with seven skiers and snowshoe hikers having died since last Saturday and two hikers missing. Most of the victims perished in avalanches but emergency services say two of them died when falling into deep snowdrifts and suffocating.

Hundreds of soldiers and firefighters have been working alongside public employees and volunteers to clear roads and roofs buried in the snowfall.

Meanwhile, the country's tourism sector is also feeling the chill.

"We are 50 per cent down on our short-term bookings," said Ms Petra Nocker-Schwarzenbacher, head of tourism at Austria's chamber of commerce. "Everyone's watching the weather," she said.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2019, with the headline 'Heavy snowfall in Alps leaves 7 dead, tourists stranded'. Print Edition | Subscribe