21 dead as worst snow in 30 years engulfs Europe
A STATE of emergency was in force across parts of Europe last night after the death toll in the worst snowfall for at least 30 years reached 21.
Tanks and troops were drafted in to rescue homeowners from neckdeep snow in Germany and Austria as the whiteout looked to continue past the weekend.
Irish skiers were among thousands facing long delays on their airport transfers to and from resorts in Austria due to road conditions, but travel industry sources said they had heard no reports of Irish people snowed in or trapped.
In Switzerland, a 300 metre-wide avalanche ploughed through the front of a hotel while diners were eating. Three people were injured but miraculously there were no deaths.
Parts of Europe have been paralysed in recent days with the snow cutting off remote mountain vil- lages and disrupting transport. Avalanche warnings were at critical levels.
The state of emergency was declared across much of southern Germany, with soldiers deployed to help trapped people. The army was also called in across Albania, Montenegro and Serbia.
‘Such quantities of snow above 800m altitude only happen once every 30 to 100 years,’ said Austrian meteorologist Alexander Radlherr. Austrian military helicopters on Friday rescued 66 German teenagers out of a mountain guest house where they had been trapped for several days.
The snow is up to three metres deep in parts of the country, where seven people have died in the past week. Two hikers have also been missing since last Saturday.
The military used helicopters to blow snow off treetops to reduce the risk of trees falling on to roads and train tracks.
Sweden and Norway were hit by similar problems, while three diners were injured when an avalanche came down the Schwägalp Pass in the Swiss Alps and crashed into the Hotel Santis.
One guest in the hotel restaurant said that initially he thought snow was falling from the roof. ‘There was a gigantic noise and the back area of the restaurant was engulfed in masses of snow,’ the guest told media.
In Germany’s southern state of Bavaria, a nine-year-old boy was killed by a tree which collapsed under the weight of snow. It was 40 minutes before he was found and emergency services were unable to revive him.
The blanket of snow is expected to remain into the middle of next week throughout central and northern Europe.
Meanwhile, Met Eireann forecasters said that sudden stratospheric warming in early January has increased the likelihood of a cold snap in this country later this month.
Meteorologist Gerry Murphy said: ‘Sudden stratospheric warming at the start of the month can sometimes bring cold weather to this part of the world, but that does not mean it will happen. It depends on many factors and it’s just too far away to predict.’
EMERGENCY: Rescue teams in the Bavarian Alps yesterday