Avalanches, accidents bring Europe's winter death toll to 21

Avalanches, accidents bring Europe's winter death toll to 21

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By JOVANA GEC
Associated Press

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - Heavy snow paralyzed much of Europe for yet another day, cutting off mountain villages, sparking avalanches like one that crashed into a Swiss hotel and killing at least four more people Friday.

Workers at the Hotel Saentis in eastern Switzerland spent Friday shoveling out hip-deep snow after a 300-meter (330-yard) wide avalanche smashed through the hotel's windows Thursday afternoon and piled up in rooms and the dining hall. Police said three people were hurt by avalanche in Schwaegalp.

In all, at least 21 weather-related deaths have been reported in Europe in the last 10 days.

The Bulgarian Red Cross said two snowboarders were killed died in an avalanche in southwest Bulgaria's Pirin Mountains.

A snowplow driver died Friday in Germany after his vehicle toppled into an icy river, while an electrical worker in Albania suffered a fatal heart attack while repairing damaged power lines.

Austrian military helicopters on Friday flew 66 German teenagers out of a mountain guest house where they had been stuck for several days.

About 2,000 soldiers and other emergency workers in Albania were assigned to help people trapped by snow and to clear roads to restore access to cutoff villages.

Several towns and cities in southwest Serbia introduced emergency measures, warning of snow piling up on the roads and sealing off mountain villages, Serbian state TV reported Friday. Most schools in the area closed down and 10 people had to be rescued from their homes. Strong winds complicated the work of emergency crews.

In neighboring Montenegro, meteorologist Dragan Buric said the first 10 days of January have been among the coldest the country has seen in decades.

"We have snow in January in the capital city (Podgorica) for the first time in nine years," Buric told Montenegrin state TV.

In the central Bosnian municipality of Kladanj, snow disrupted power supplies and cut phone lines. Zijad Vejzovic, from the civil protection agency, said authorities declared an emergency.

"Because of heavy snow, in some parts over 1 meter (3 feet) high, some of the roads have been blocked," he explained. "We need more machines. We have run out of resources and money."

In Germany and Austria, where heavy snow caused fatal avalanches and major disruptions in the past few days, the situation was easing Friday. Still, airlines canceled around 120 flights at Frankfurt Airport and 90 at Munich Airport because of concerns about snow.

Police in Lenggries, south of Munich, said the 48-year-old snowplow driver was rescued from the river after several hours but died in a hospital.

In the eastern German city of Chemnitz, all burials at the municipal cemetery through Monday were called off because of snow.

In the elegant Austrian city of Salzburg, all parks, public gardens, play areas and cemeteries were closed Friday because of the danger posed by trees cracking under the weight of snow.

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Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin, Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, and Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria, contributed to this report.

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