Thousands stranded in Alps by huge snowfall

Fabrice Coffeini  AFP  Getty Images

Fabrice Coffeini AFP Getty Images

In the town of Visp, about 30km (20 miles) down the valley from Zermatt, 20 people were evacuated from their homes after a mud- and snowslide sent debris into a portion of the village, Swiss broadcaster SRG reported on Tuesday.

"It was Easter Sunday, 1978, when 78" of fresh fell on the Alps.

Yesterday, avalanche dangers in parts of Valais, including Zermatt and Saas Fee reached 5, the highest level, before shifting back to 4, according to the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research.

In the resort of Zermatt, home to the famous Matterhorn mountain, more than 13,000 tourists can not leave.

"It is not possible to do downhill or cross country (skiing), but that's ok".

The heavy snow was brought by the foehn, a warm weather system that blows from the south.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the so-called air bridge could transport about 100 people an hour, conditions permitting.

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Around 13,000 people were left stranded in the Swiss ski village of Zermatt after heavy snow and a power cut saw mountain lifts, ski runs, walking paths and train services all closed.

But the 29 people staying there managed to escape unharmed through the garage.

Heavy snowfall has blocked access to some Italian resorts and villages, among them Cervinia in the Valle d'Aosta region.

However, the tourist office said there was no reason for concern in Zermatt.

On the French side, where Meteo France said Tuesday the avalanche threat has diminished, rescuers were able to start looking for a British skier missing for the past two days, with a helicopter searching the area where a signal from his mobile phone was last picked up.

After almost three feet of fresh snow fell on top of a deep holiday snowpack, on Monday morning police and local authorities announced the closure of all roads in and out of Zermatt, Switzerland, due to extreme avalanche danger.

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