World News

Tourists airlifted from snowbound Swiss ski resort

ZURICH (Reuters) - The Swiss Alpine resort of Zermatt airlifted guests by helicopter on Tuesday after heavy snow and a power cut stranded thousands of visitors.

An estimated 13,000 people were stuck in Zermatt after snow closed mountain lifts, ski runs, walking paths and train services to the village.

With the onset of the wintery weather, avalanche danger in the rugged region of Wallis that includes Zermatt near the Italian border is now rated as “very great”, the highest level, according to the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research.

In the town of Visp, about 30 km (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. Nobody was injured.

However, the tourist office said there was no reason for concern in Zermatt. Town officials say the airlift service was just arranged for those wishing to leave.

“Power has returned, there’s still the chance 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.”

Helicopters flew for about two hours on Tuesday afternoon, she said.

Guests seeking to leave the car-free village at the foot of the Matterhorn were flown to Taesch, about 5 km (3 miles) away.

From there, Zermatt had enlisted buses in place of rail service to take people further down the valley following the opening of the road. Helicopters were also used to transport people seeking to reach Zermatt, officials said.

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

Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Alison Williams