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New Avalanche Buries 10 in Austria

February 24, 1999

LANDECK, Austria (AP) _ A new avalanche 30-feet deep thundered down the mountainside outside the stricken village of Galtuer today, burying 10 people caught in its path, the Austria Press Agency reported.

Just hours earlier, Austrian soldiers had taken advantage of a break in heavy snowfall to search for people buried in an avalanche Tuesday in the Alpine town _ relieving villagers who dug with their bare hands to reach the missing. At least 14 people were confirmed dead.

But then another avalanche roared through the snow-laden region just outside Galtuer this afternoon. The new snowslide, 600 feet wide and nearly three stories deep, destroyed three houses and left 10 people buried, APA reported.

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.

Already the death toll in Galtuer has surpassed that in Chamonix, France, where 12 people were killed this month. About 26 people were believed buried in Galtuer, near the Swiss border, Austrian army officers helping in the rescue efforts said.

Children, German and other foreign tourists, as well as locals, were among the 14 killed and the missing, provincial governor Wendelin Weingartner said. No further information on the victims has been released.

The Dutch tourist board in Amsterdam confirmed that six Dutch nationals were among the missing.

Rescue workers recovered at least 20 of the injured, who were flown by helicopter to regional hospitals. Six required intensive care and were rushed to the hospital near Landeck, 25 miles from Galtuer.

By midday, at least 350 people, many of them German tourists, had been evacuated 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 across Europe this year have died in avalanches that have buried roads and railways.

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 that hit the heart of the village of 700 people, stopping just short of the church.

A second snow wall roared down a different mountain face after midnight, hitting the edge of the village. It wasn’t clear how much damage that one caused.

``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 down 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.

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