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Austria Avalanche Kills at Least 9

February 24, 1999

LANDECK, Austria (AP) _ Austrian soldiers took advantage of a break in heavy snowfall today to mount a rescue of avalanche victims from a stricken Alpine town, joining villagers who dug with their bare hands in a frantic effort to reach those buried below.

The confirmed death toll from Tuesday’s avalanche at Galtuer stood at nine early today, but was expected to rise. More than 30 people were still believed buried under tons of snow.

``We’re doing everything humanly possible to rescue people,″ said Austrian army spokesman Maj. Thomas Schoenherr from nearby Landeck, where rescue operations were headquartered.

He said that soon after daybreak, about a dozen helicopters ferried some 200 troops to the avalanche site and also carried some of the injured back to hospitals in Landeck, 25 miles away. The main road into Galtuer was blocked by an earlier avalanche.

Children, some of whom had been playing in the streets when the snow rumbled over them, were among the dead. The Austria Press Agency said early today that 32 people were still missing in the village in the Tyrol region, near the Swiss border.

Firefighters, tourists and residents joined in the search for survivors, some digging in the snow with their bare hands.

``It’s a terrible day for Tyrol,″ provincial governor Wendelin Weingartner said Tuesday.

Schoenherr said that people caught in the open by the slide had little chance of surviving more than a few minutes but those trapped in their homes, where they had air to breathe, had a chance of surviving considerably longer.

He said the United States, Germany and Switzerland had all offered to lend helicopters to the rescue efforts, and officials were evaluating how best to use them.

The Galtuer avalanche was one of the worst to strike Central Europe this winter as the region continues to endure its heaviest snowfall in 50 years.

Tens of thousands of travelers were stranded in train stations, traffic jams and isolated resort towns across France, Italy Switzerland and Austria as the avalanches buried homes, roads and railways.

At least 60 people have died in avalanches in Europe this year.

In Austria’s western Vorarlberg province, rescuers near Gargellen found a man and a woman Tuesday who were buried a day earlier when an avalanche swallowed a mountain restaurant, APA reported. The man was still alive, but bad weather prevented an emergency flight to a hospital, and he died later of his injuries.

Where helicopters could fly, rescuers flew in food and tons of mail to entire valleys that had been cut off by heavy snow. Some 20,000 tourists were stranded in Tyrol province, and thousands of others in Vorarlberg.

In northwestern Italy, a mass of snow and debris tore through the small village of Morgex on Tuesday, killing a 52-year-old woman in her home and injuring three others.

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

Rescuers in Evolene, Switzerland, found five more bodies Tuesday from avalanches on Sunday. Three people were still missing.

Update hourly