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Helicopters airlift people from Swiss ski resort cut off by snow

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Helicopters airlift people from Swiss ski resort cut off by snow

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The Swiss Alpine ski resort of Zermatt has airlifted guests by helicopter after heavy snow and a power cut stranded thousands of visitors.

An estimated 13,000 people were stuck in the area after the conditions - and notably the fear of avalanches - forced the closure of mountain lifts, ski runs, walking paths and train services.

The tourist office said there was no need for concern in Zermatt, and town officials said the airlift service was only for those who wished to leave. Helicopters flew for about two hours on Tuesday afternoon, flying people to Taesch about five kilometres away, where buses were available to travel further down the valley.

"Power has returned, there's still the change that it could go out... but at this time things look good," a tourist office spokeswoman said. "The atmosphere in the village is relaxed and comfortable."

Avalanche danger in the southeastern region near the border with Switzerland is rated at the highest level of "very great", says the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research.

Evacuations

In the town of Visp, some 30 kilometres down the valley, 20 people were evacuated from their homes after a movement of mud and snow sent debris into part of the village, according to Swiss broadcaster SRG. Nobody was injured.

Mudslides, rock falls and the risk of avalanche caused the closure of several roads in the canton of Valais, according to Swiss media. Earlier, Zermatt’s website said “arrivals and departures are not possible at the moment" and there may be power cuts.

The road to the resort was closed on Monday morning and the train stopped running in the evening.

The town has a total of 13,400 tourist beds, including 7,200 in hotels and 6,200 in apartments. The population of the municipality amounts to about 5,500 inhabitants.

Swiss mountain communities have been in the spotlight for geological risks since August, when the side of a mountain collapsed in the soutern canton of Grisons, killing eight hikers. Their bodies have not been found.

Avalanche danger in France

In the French Alps, high avalanche alerts were lifted as heavy snowfalls eased up on Tuesday afternoon. However, the threat of rare but large avalanches remained, according to forecasters Météo-France.

A 39-year-old British skier has been reported missing since Sunday afternoon after setting off to descend a final piste for the day in Tignes. Weather conditions described as terrible prevented rescue teams from searching for him, although a helicopter was able to take off on Tuesday afternoon.

At Aragnouet in the French Pyrenees, a skier died afer being buried in an avalanche on the Pique Poque mountain at 1,600 metres altitude. Despite a large rescue effort involving dogs and a helicopter, the man was pronounced dead when he was removed from the snow.