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Seven Dead in Austrian Avalanche

February 23, 1999

INNSBRUCK, Austria (AP) _ An avalanche roared into a small town in the Alps in western Austria today, reportedly killing at least seven people. About 35 people were feared buried.

At least 13 people were injured, some critically, in the latest of a series of deadly avalanches this winter in Europe.

Rescuers dug out 20 people in the first hours after the avalanche hit the town of Galtuer, but seven of those were dead, the Austria Press Agency reported.

``We were drinking hot mulled wine, when suddenly it started. The lights went out. It was dark. There was only dust and snow. We got out of there as fast as we could,″ Franz Wenko, a hotel operator in Galtuer told Austrian television.

Austrian Army Maj. Wartok, who declined to give his first name, told The Associated Press that it was assumed the missing people were trapped in houses buried by the avalanche. He said people trapped in houses have a better chance of surviving than those caught in the open, where the snow soon suffocates them.

A security official in Innsbruck said some of those rescued in Galtuer, a town in western Tyrol province’s Paznaun Valley, were in critical condition.

Heavy snowfalls have set off a series of avalanches in the Alps in recent weeks, claiming lives in France, Switzerland and Austria. Snowstorms snarled traffic and halted trains today in Germany.

An avalanche in the Italian Alps early today killed one woman and injured several other people. Rescue crews said they didn’t think anyone else was trapped in the snow in Morgex, near Italy’s northwestern border with France and Switzerland.

The avalanche in Austria rolled through downtown Galtuer shortly after 4 p.m., APA report said. It said rescue teams immediately started work.

The Austrian agency also reported that a man and a woman were killed Monday when an avalanche enveloped a mountain restaurant near Gargellen.

And in Switzerland, the search for eight people missing after two avalanches swept away chalets in an alpine valley was called off after a second day with no results, state police said.

More than 100 rescue workers searched the mass of snow that hit between the villages of Evolene and Les Hauderes on Sunday but found no trace of the missing people, most of whom were French tourists. Two victims have so far been found.

In central Switzerland, a house was swept away by avalanches early today, state police said. It was not immediately clear whether anyone was buried.

Villages and valleys elsewhere in the Swiss Alps remained cut off from the outside world by recent snowfalls.

And in western Romania, two Czech tourists were missing and feared dead after they were caught in an avalanche over the weekend, police said today.

In Germany, about 80 trains were canceled after the heavy snow and strong winds tore down overhead lines and tossed trees onto the tracks, railway spokesman Karl Josef Bales said.

Traffic on the autobahn over the Hunsrueck peak near Mainz was backed up for 30 miles early Tuesday. Forecasters in Munich were predicting up to 3 feet of new snow on Wednesday.

In the city of Aachen, on the border with Belgium and the Netherlands, traffic was cut off for hours due to 10 inches of snow that fell overnight. Traffic jams on the surrounding highways during morning rush reached 10 miles.

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