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Avalanche threat cuts off mountain villages

A man puts up a road closed sign due to avalanches near Leukerbad Keystone

Several roads in canton Valais have been closed due to the high avalanche risk, cutting off villages and ski resorts from the outside world.

This content was published on March 9, 2006 - 12:58

Avalanches have blocked roads and rail lines in other parts of the Swiss Alps, and heavy rain in low-lying areas has flooded cellars.

The situation is not expected to improve, with up to 70 centimetres of fresh snow expected to fall within the next 24 hours.

Charly Wuilloud, spokesman for canton Valais, said that 20 roads remained blocked and that the danger of avalanches was still high.

"The temperature is relatively high, the snow is very heavy and the avalanches are also heavy and are coming down into the forests," he told swissinfo.

Expected to remain closed until at least Friday morning, were the roads through the Goms and Löschental valleys.

Wuilloud said emergency services would use explosives to clear the snow where possible.

Other roads, including the one to Zermatt are also closed. The resort can only be reached by train.

Evacuation

The largest avalanche in Oberried in canton Bern in over 50 years closed the local road and a portion of the railway line between Interlaken and Lucerne.

These routes are due to stay closed for several days, said officials, who added that 60 Oberried villagers had been evacuated as a precaution.

The Kandersteg car train linking canton Bern with Valais has also been stopped for the time being.

Heavy snowfall and rainfall also prompted a roof to cave in at a warehouse in Leibstadt in canton Aargau. No one was hurt.

Flooding

Flooding was reported in the Jura region, canton Solothurn and in the low-lying agricultural plains in the western part of the country.

The Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research raised its avalanche warning for some regions to "high", the second highest rating.

It said up to 40cm snow fell on Wednesday and temperatures rose to between eight and 13 degrees.

More snow

Thomas Wiesinger, avalanche forecaster at the institute, told swissinfo that the danger would decrease slightly by Friday, "but we expect more snow on Friday and Saturday".

So far 12 people have died in avalanches in the Swiss Alps over the past few weeks, mostly skiers and snowboarders who ignored avalanche warnings.

"We had 12 avalanche fatalities in 17 days and if we think that usually the annual average is 24, this is about 50 per cent of an annual average," Wiesinger said.

"The reasons are that in several areas we had a very weak snowpack [mass of lying snow] for a long time and then heavy snowfalls with wind and many people in the Alps on holidays."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

There have been 19 deaths so far from avalanches this season in Switzerland.
12 have occurred over the past two-and-a-half weeks.
High alerts have been issued for the northern Swiss Alps, Vaud and west Bernese Alps, Obergoms and Prättigau.
Warnings are in place for the rest of the Bernese Alps, Valais, Graubünden and northern Ticino.

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