Past winter caused worst avalanche damage in Switzerland this century

Hundreds of avalanches and massive snowfalls this past winter caused the worst-ever economic damage in Switzerland this century, the authorities said Tuesday.

This content was published on July 20, 1999 - 15:45

Hundreds of avalanches and massive snowfalls this past winter caused the worst-ever economic damage in Switzerland this century, the authorities said Tuesday.

The Swiss Environmental Agency said in its provisional damage assessment that about 1,000 avalanches killed 36 people and caused millions of Swiss francs in short and long-term economic damage.

In February alone, 720 avalanches destroyed or damaged hundreds of houses, roads, electrical installations, farmland and woods. The agency said losses in those sectors alone totalled SFr300 million ($200 million).

Seventeen people were killed by the February avalanches. Most of the other fatalities were deaths caused by winter sports activities.

Last month, the Swiss Working Group for Alpine Regions – an organisation focusing on the economic development of Switzerland’s mountain regions – put the long-term costs due to the winter weather at about SFr1 billion ($600).

Tourism officials in various parts of Switzerland have said that the massive snowfalls of up to five meters in some regions aversely affected many of the tourist operations during the winter months, leading to holiday cancellations and profit losses of up to 25 percent.

However, a spokeswoman for the tourist office in the Bernese Oberland -- a key destination for many foreign holiday makers -- said the massive snowfalls last winter may actually have boosted Switzerland's reputation as a winter sports destination.

The environmental agency said Tuesday that the trees planted to prevent avalanches in the Swiss Alps and the thousands of avalanche barriers throughout the mountains had clearly helped avoid even greater damage and loss of life.

While government officials pledged to improve information about severe winter weather and avalanches, they cautioned that complete safety in the mountains could never be achieved.


From staff with wire reports.




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