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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Thousands of holidaymakers stranded by Alps snow

Controlled explosions are being carried out to attempt to clear the snow

Tourists wait in line to be airlifted by helicopter after being trapped by heavy snowfall  in Zermatt, Switzerland. Dominic Steinmann / Keystone via AP
Tourists wait in line to be airlifted by helicopter after being trapped by heavy snowfall in Zermatt, Switzerland. Dominic Steinmann / Keystone via AP

Heavy snowfall has trapped thousands of tourists in the Swiss Alps.

The resort, Zermatt, is popular amongst the wealthy, has been cut off from civillisation as its roads, trains and cable cars were forced to close over fears over avalanches.

Around 13,000 people are stranded with rescuers only able to evacuate 100 people an hour to the nearby village of Taesch.

Police said only those who asked to leave were on the list to be relocated and that the efforts were not an official evacuation.

Pictures from the scene show queues of people waiting with luggage to be helicoptered out from Zermatt’s Raron Valley. The evacuees look calm, some even taking selfies with the rescue helicopters.

Avalanches have been reported, with one ploughing into a building and another reportedly bursting through the windows in the converted Olympic Village near Turin as up to two metres of snow fell nearby. Video from the scene shows Britons staying in their chalet for safety as an avalanche descends nearby.

At least 31.5 inches of snow had dropped in Zermatt over a 24-hour period, according to Switzerland's WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research. The risk of an avalanche taking place was raised to a maximum warning level of five.

Officials are using a number of heavy-duty methods to try to clear the snow, with controlled explosions reportedly being carried out to clear roads and railway tracks. Bulldozers are being used to try to clear streets in order to then grit them.

Users on social media have shared pictures from Zermatt of their attemps to cope without electricity, including having to use candles for light and signs showing amenities such as lifts were not working.

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Janine Imesch of the Zermatt tourism office told AFP her office suffered a temporary power cut but said tourists were safe with the road closures in place.

"There is nothing to panic about, everything is fine," she added. "Only the ski areas are closed. In the village, the atmosphere is relaxed."

The head of Zermatt's town council, Romy Biner, told state media it had been many years since the region had seen such severe snowfall.

She said: "It surprised us a bit this year and we're trying to make the best of it."

Authorities expect conditions to improve by Wednesday.