Landslide in Austria leaves 130 villagers trapped in Vals | News | DW | 25.12.2017
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Landslide in Austria leaves 130 villagers trapped in Vals

Tens of thousands of tons of rocks have buried a Tyrolian village's only road. Three people have also died in Switzerland following a series of separate avalanches in the Alps.

About 130 residents of an Austrian village remained trapped on Wednesday after several massive landslides severed their only link to the outside world.

The solitary access road to the village of Vals, in Tyrol, was buried beneath 50 meters (165 feet) of rubble in the Christmas eve landslides. Authorities expected them remain trapped until Wednesday.

Nobody was injured in the landslides, but the rubble was spread across 150 meters. About nine houses, home to around 40 people, were evacuated, with people leaving via a forest path.

Authorities later banned further evacuation efforts, citing fear for further rock falls.

"The trapped people are unlikely to be reachable for another two days," Mayor Klaus Ungerank told Austrian news agency APA.

Geologist Gunther Heißel told public broadcaster ORF Tyrol that there were still "failures in the area." In addition, some deep cracks would have "expanded considerably."

Read more: Skiers left hanging after gondola breakdown in French Alps

Stocked up for Christmas

Helicopters were delivering emergency supplies, but people were not running short on food. "Everybody's stocked up for Christmas," said Mayor Ungerank.

According to the state government, clearing the road will take at least three weeks.

Local media reported that a group of children had passed through the path of the rockfall on their way to a Christmas church service just minutes before it fell on Sunday evening. Tyrol's governor said it was a "Christmas miracle" that no one was hurt.

Read more: Austrian ski resort of Semmering losing faith in Ukrainian oligarch investors

Initial estimates found several tens of thousands of tonnes of rock had fallen.

"It was a gigantic rock fall. In the dark, the magnitude of this is still difficult to estimate," geologist Ungerank told ORF.

Three dead in Swiss Alps avalanches

Police in Switzerland on Monday reported that three mountain climbers had died in the Swiss Alps over the Christmas weekend in a series of separate avalanches. 

The latest incident involved a local man being swept away by an avalanche in the Valais region, close to the Hofathorn peak. The 39-year-old was recovered by his four companions but was later confirmed dead at the scene by emergency services.

Separately, three people were hit by an avalanche on Saturday, also in the Valais region. While of the two climbers only suffered light injuries, the third, a 29-year-old woman, was seriously wounded and died in hospital the following day. 

The third incident saw Swiss emergency services uncover the body of a 31-year-old French national under three meters of snow in the Grisons region. According to police, the man had attempted to climb the 2,376-meter-high Glattwang summit on his own when a mass of snow collapsed over the path he had taken, carrying him more than a kilometer over rocky terrain.

aw/msh (AFP, dpa)

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