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New Avalanche Buries 10 in Austria

February 24, 1999

LANDECK, Austria (AP) _ A new avalanche 45-feet deep thundered down the mountainside outside the stricken village of Galtuer today, burying 10 people in its path, the Austria Press Agency reported.

Four of the 10 who were swept away were pulled out of the snowslide _ shaken but alive _ by rescuers. Six remained missing, Austrian state radio said.

Just hours earlier, Austrian soldiers had taken advantage of a break in heavy snowfall to search for victims of an avalanche Tuesday in the Alpine town _ relieving villagers who dug with bare hands to reach the missing. Sixteen 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 about four stories deep, destroyed three houses, 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.

Those killed were six Germans, six Dutch nationals and four Austrians, officials said. Three of the dead were children.

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.

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 350 people, many of them German tourists, were 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 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. 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 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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