Road and rail access to the popular ski and winter resort of Zermatt in the Swiss Alps has been cut off as the region faces extreme avalanche risks.
The road to the chic car-free mountain resort has been closed since Monday morning while rail services to Zermatt were stopped at around 17:30 on the same day.
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It is estimated that around 13,000 tourists are stranded. There are around 13,400 beds available for tourists in Zermatt: 7,200 in hotels and 6,200 in holiday apartments.
No houses have been evacuated yet and those in Zermatt are free to move around in the village. However, the authorities are monitoring the situation every half hour and there is a possibility of power cuts. The video clip below shows scenes from Zermatt on Tuesday January 9, 2018.
A temporary helicopter air-bridge was set up on Tuesday between 3-5pm to make emergency flights in and out. The road leading to Zermatt between Visp and Täsch lower down in the valley was reopened at 3pm but road access to the mountain resort remains impossible.
On Monday, a level 5 avalanche risk – the highest risk level – was declared in parts of canton Valais (where Zermatt is located) by the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF). The last time this occurred was in 2009. It was later lowered to level 4 (high) on Tuesday evening.
According to the SLF, a mixture of predicted fresh snowfall on top of the old snow that fell in abundance over Christmas could lead to “numerous spontaneous avalanches of a large, and often very large, scale”. Operations to artificially trigger avalanches to make areas safe went on throughout Tuesday and are due to continue on Wednesday, when weather conditions are expected to improve.
Elsewhere, in the parallel Saas valley, road access to the resort of Saas-Fee is also blocked from the village of Stalden onwards. Around 1,800 tourists are currently staying in the Saas valley region. The road is expected to reopen on Wednesday. Heavy snow has also blocked access to other Valais villages and resorts, including Arolla, Visperterminen and Simplon village. In the Simplon region two metres of fresh snow fell over a 24-hour period.
In the town of Visp, about 30 km (20 miles) down the valley from Zermatt, 20 people were evacuated from their homes after a mud- and snowslide sent debris into a portion of the village, Swiss public television, SRF, reported on Tuesday. Nobody was injured.
The village of Gondo on the Swiss-Italian border is also cut off due to a mudslide on Monday. In 2000, the village was hit by a landslide that killed 13 people.
swissinfo.ch and agencies/ac/sb