5 dead, 13 missing as snow, rain batter Western Europe
February 22, 1999
EVOLENE, Switzerland (CNN) -- Thirteen people remained missing Monday night after snowstorms and heavy rain caused avalanches and flooding in France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Authorities were already blaming five deaths on the storm.
In France, fears mounted for three French skiers stranded for the sixth day in an igloo 10,000 feet up in the Alps and two others injured and missing in the Pyrenees.
Blizzards and the threat of avalanches prevented gendarmes from setting out to rescue the three skiers blocked by snow above the resort of Pralognan since last Tuesday.
The three have built an igloo for shelter and have talked to the gendarmes using a cellular phone. But there has been no contact since Sunday night, when they said they lacked food and water and were suffering from bitter cold.
Rescuers said they believed the phone's batteries had run out and they would try to reach the men once the storm abated. But the weather showed no sign of improvement in the Alps, which is experiencing the heaviest snowfalls in decades.
In the Pyrenees, rescuers backed by a helicopter found four members of a group of six -- four men and two women in their 20s -- who had failed to return from a weekend excursion to a 7,600-foot mountain near Bagneres de Bigorre in the Pyrenees.
They were trying to reach the remaining two, who had fallen 300 feet and were injured.
Rescue efforts also continued Monday in Switzerland, where avalanches hit Sunday evening between the villages of Evolene and Les Hauderes, engulfing about 10 chalets. A 23- year-old town worker and his 22-year-old girlfriend were found dead, buried in their snowplow.
"The avalanche rolled into the valley like a bulldozer and crushed everything," Valais state emergency official Charly Wuilloud told reporters.
Eight people, two of them children, were missing. Wuilloud said the chances of them being found alive were slim. The rescue operation was called off early Monday due to a high risk of more avalanches in the area, 110 miles from Geneva.
Some 200 people were evacuated from parts of the Val d'Herens, and the upper part of the valley was closed off. Authorities told those who stayed in Evolene not to leave their homes.
Forecasters said the danger of more avalanches was likely to be high for several days in the area, following weeks of snowfalls which have forced hundreds of people in exposed areas to leave their homes.
Flooding and landslides were reported throughout northwest Switzerland. A Swiss man who took his canoe out alone Sunday on a tributary of the Rhine River was found drowned south of Zurich.
In Germany, one man fell out of a rubber dinghy Sunday night on the swollen Jagst River in Crailsheim, east of Stuttgart and was swept away. Another person whose car went into the same river Sunday morning near Heilbronn remained missing and was presumed dead.
Experts flooded two ponds in southwest Germany in the hopes of keeping the swollen Rhine River from rising, but melting snow and rain was expected to push it to record levels Tuesday.
Austria's far western Vorarlberg province was cut off Monday because of avalanche warnings, the Austria Press Agency reported. Many villages were inaccessible.
In neighboring Tirol, 130 people had to be evacuated from their homes in the Kauner valley because of avalanche fears.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Central Europe blasted by deadly blizzards
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