The Heat Is Online

More than 70 dead in Alpine avalanches

From Time Magazine: March 8, 1999:

"This season more than 70 people have died in Europe which has seen the heaviest snowstorms of the past 40 years. …The avalanches have been so frequent and the weather so horrendous that at various times during the past two weeks as many as 100,000 vacationers have been stranded in Alpine resorts because roads and railroads were impassable.

From ABC Nightly News: Feb 23, 1999 -- Mt. Baker in Washington State has received 20 feet of snow in three weeks.

From ABC Nightly News: March 3, 1999 -- As of March 1, 37 people have died in avalanches in Austrian and Italian Alps. Homes and villages have been destroyed. Trees have been snapped. In Austria, 100 tons of snow and ice moved down a mountain at 200 miles per hour.

1 Dies in Avalanche in Austria

LANDECK, Austria (AP) (Feb. 24, 1999) -- A 45-foot high avalanche thundered down the mountainside in a hamlet near the stricken Alpine village of Galtuer today, killing one woman in a second straight day of deadly snowslides in western Austria.

The new avalanche came as Austrian soldiers searched in hopes of finding survivors of Tuesday's deadly avalanche in Galtuer, where 16 people were confirmed dead.

Despite a break in the heavy snowfall, another avalanche roared through Valzur, some 7 miles northeast of Galtuer, this afternoon. The new snowslide, 600 feet wide and about four stories deep, destroyed three houses, the Austria Press Agency reported.

Nine people were swept away in Valzur. A man and a child were pulled out shaken but alive. Searchers later found one woman dead; six people were listed as missing.

Tuesday's avalanche in Galtuer in western Tryol province was the worst to hit central Europe this winter, when the region has endured its heaviest snowfall in 50 years.

Those killed in Galtuer included six Germans and four Austrians, officials said. Three of the dead were children. Six Dutch nationals were listed as missing.

Already the death toll in Galtuer has surpassed that in Chamonix, France, where 12 people were killed this month. About 15 people were believed buried in Galtuer, near the Swiss border.

Twenty of the injured found by rescuers were flown by helicopter to regional hospitals. Six required intensive care and were rushed to the hospital near Landeck, 25 miles from Galtuer.

At least 1,000 people, many of them German tourists, were evacuated by helicopter to Landeck, where rescue operations were based.

``I thought it was just a storm,'' said Hanno Heinz, 17, from Radstadt, Germany. Heinz, who was visiting Galtuer, added that the snow came with such force that it blew open the hinged windows of the guesthouse, dumping 4 inches of snow on the floor.

Avalanches have stranded tens of thousands of travelers this winter in train stations and isolated resorts across France, Italy, Switzerland and Austria. More than 60 people have died in avalanches across Europe this year.

Snow in Austria was so heavy that it forced a rare cancellation of today's events at the cross-country skiing world championships in Ramsau, central Austria, where two feet of snow fell overnight.

``We haven't had so much snow in 25 years,'' said Wolfgang Mitter, the organizing committee chief.

In Galtuer, tons of snow from two avalanches merged into one powerful slide Tuesday that hit the heart of the village of 700 people, stopping just short of the church.

A second wall of snow roared down a different mountain face after midnight, hitting the edge of the village.

``This is a catastrophe like we have not had for centuries,'' Weingartner said.

Many European nations and the United States offered to lend helicopters to the rescue efforts. Six U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters able to carry 20 people arrived today from Germany.

In Switzerland, the body of a 42-year-old man killed by an avalanche Tuesday was found 300 yards below the remains of a farmhouse at Bristen, police said.

And in the Swiss state of Valais, avalanches thundered repeatedly into a mountain valley Tuesday, propelled by fresh snow and winds gusting up to 95 mph.

Rescuers in Evolene, Switzerland, found the eighth and ninth victims today from avalanches Sunday; one person was still missing.

In France, a 26-year-old hiker died today shortly after rescue teams plucked him and his wife out of a snowstorm in the Pyrenees mountains, police said. The French couple were part of a hiking group of six reported missing during a snowstorm Sunday.