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Snow chaos eases in Switzerland

Switzerland has been hit by hundreds of avalanches Keystone

The heaviest snowfall in four years has brought chaos to Switzerland's mountain regions, with hundreds of avalanches cutting off roads and villages.

This content was published on February 7, 2003 - 18:27

Authorities said many areas were still on high alert, although conditions were improving.

Avalanches have triggered numerous incidents across the country, with four skiers killed on Wednesday. No further fatalities have been reported.

On Thursday, an avalanche buried a restaurant in the resort of Flims in eastern Switzerland. Cantonal police said the building had been protected by a specially designed roof and diners had escaped unharmed.

Thomas Stucki of the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, told swissinfo that luck had played its part in this week's events.

"The protection measures are efficient and local experts are doing a good job, but on such a day as Thursday, luck also played a role in ensuring there weren't any victims."

The Davos-based Institute said the cantons of Valais, Graubünden and Schwyz were still high-risk areas.

Roads blocked

The Gotthard tunnel, Europe's main north-south trans-alpine artery, has reopened. It had been closed for two days following an avalanche.

The tunnel's closure caused major delays on routes, with traffic diverted to other mountain roads. On the heavily congested St Bernadino route, over 1,000 drivers were forced to spend Thursday night in their lorries.

The closure of local roads in the Bernese Oberland left many villages cut off.

Earlier this week, 70 residents were forced to leave their homes in Hasliberg, while 56 German schoolchildren in Stechelberg were evacuated from the building where they were spending their skiing holidays.

Avalanche deaths

The most serious incident occurred in canton Valais on Wednesday, when four skiers were killed by an avalanche after they skied onto a closed piste.

Police said the victims went off the marked slopes in the resort of Champex, despite warnings by the authorities. Two other skiers were injured in the avalanche.

The accident - the worst since 1999 - brings to 14 the number of avalanche fatalities in Switzerland this winter.

But the number of deaths is still well down on the winter of 1998-99 when 36 people died. Twelve of them died in a series of avalanches in the village of Evolène in southern Switzerland.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Switzerland has had its heaviest snowfall in four years with the country suffering hundreds of avalanches, cutting off roads and villages.

The highest-risk areas are in the cantons of Valais, Graubünden and Schwyz.

The Gotthard tunnel, Europe's main north-south transalpine artery, has reopened.

Conditions are due to ease during the coming days, but skiers have been urged to stay on-piste.

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