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Roads reopen after heavy rain

Heavy rain led to mudslides, such as this one on the railway between Luino and Bellinzona in canton Ticino

(Keystone)

Trans-alpine traffic flowed freely once again through Switzerland on Saturday as roads and railway lines reopened following Friday's torrential rains, which triggered floods and mudslides.

The Gotthard tunnel, which is a key artery between northern and southern Europe, was opened to traffic on Saturday morning after being closed for almost 18 hours amid a massive clean-up operation.

On Friday, mudslides had blocked all four lanes of the highway leading to the tunnel.

Rail transport through the crucial Gotthard-railway tunnel also came to a standstill after a mudslide on its northern side covered about 15-metres of track. Authorities reopened the track on Saturday after rail workers secured the damaged slopes.

At least 100 rail passengers were forced to stay overnight in the northern Italian city of Milan, while others were bussed over the nearby San-Bernardino pass.

Traffic congestion is expected to continue throughout the weekend, with long delays on either side of the Alps caused by a backlog of trucks and cars waiting to pass through the tunnel.

Evacuations

While there were no injuries or fatalities caused by the weather chaos, at least 100 people were evacuated from their homes in the central Swiss canton of Uri.

In the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, rains set off over 55 mud and waterslides, forcing 26 families to flee their homes in the towns of Gambarogno and Brione-Minusio on Friday night.

The transport chaos served as an unwelcome reminder of how vulnerable trans-European traffic is to natural and man-made disasters.

The Gotthard Tunnel was closed for several months over winter, after two trucks collided sparking a deadly inferno that killed 11 people last October.

Combined with the long-standing blockage of the Mont Blanc tunnel between Italy and France, which was only reopened in April after being shut for three years, much of Europe's north-south traffic has been forced to make long and costly detours around the Alps.

The cost of the various closures is believed to be worth billions of euros in lost or delayed trade, particularly from Italy.

The rain has also scotched hopes that authorities would this weekend open the 2,108-metre high St Gotthard pass, which has been closed during winter. More than a metre of fresh snow has created an avalance risk, according to transport officials.

Downpour

Meteorologists said more rain fell on the Alps during 12 hours on Friday than during a normal month.

Clean-up operations on both sides of the border started in earnest on Saturday, involving around 450 civil defence personnel.

The heavy weather also forced the cancellation of at least 60 flights at Milan's Malpensa airport.

Switzerland's Federal Railways said it did not expect the closures to impact on railway timetables in other parts of the country.

swissinfo with agencies

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