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Avalanche threat cuts off Zermatt for second time in two weeks

Long lines formed Sunday in Zermatt as tourists waited for tickets on a helicopter shuttle. Keystone

Access to the Swiss ski resort of Zermatt is again closed off for the second time this month with tourists being transported off the mountain via helicopter.

This content was published on January 21, 2018 - 14:19
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"Due to avalanche risk, the road and the railway line between Zermatt and Täsch are closed. There is no danger for guests and locals," a statement from Zermatt Tourism said on Sunday. Roads were closed beginning Saturday evening, and by 10:00pm the railway service was shut down. 

+ The latest from Zermatt, Andermatt and other snowed-in towns

Shuttle helicopter flights have been arranged by Air Zermatt beginning at noon on Sunday to transport guests from the resort, where it's estimated that 9,000 people are currently staying.

+ Maximum avalanche risk flagged for southern Switzerland

On Sunday afternoon, swissinfo.ch journalist Susan Misicka shot a video of the situation on the ground, shortly before tourists heard that the helicopter tickets were nearly sold out. Some had been waiting in sub-freezing temperatures for more than two hours. The tourism office invited guests to make overnight arrangements, noting that "the village is prepared for such cases and has enough supplies."

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Maximum avalanche risk level 

By the end of the day on Sunday, heavy precipitation and winds resulted in the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research raising the avalanche risk level across the northern ridge of the Alps to the maximum of five — 'very strong risk'. 

At lower altitudes, many roads and railways had been closed off earlier in the weekend due to the threat of landslides.

On Saturday, the greatest safety risk was mainly restricted to the western canton of Valais, but by Sunday morning, mass snowfall sparked the closure of several railway lines in Graubünden in the east and Ticino in the south. 

Notably, the line running between Filisur and Davos, which is one of two rail access routes to the site of the World Economic Forum to be held next week, is closed.



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The line connecting Geneva to Lyon in France has also been affected, with a landslide interrupting travel. Replacement buses are running, although connections are not guaranteed, according to rail authorities. 

The Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology MeteoSuisse reported Sunday that Switzerland can expect nearly a metre (3.3 feet) of snow in total between Saturday afternoon and Monday night, mainly in Valais and Graubünden. Valais police have recommended avoiding all unnecessary travel in the region.

Evacuations

On Saturday, the Swiss News Agency reported that the 40 residents of the village of Mayens-de-Conthey were requested to vacate the area by 10:00 Saturday morning due to the avalanche risk. The access road to the municipality has been closed to all traffic – even pedestrians – since Wednesday.

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It’s the second time the townspeople have had to evacuate this month, having left the area on January 3, again due to the avalanche threat.




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