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  Avalanches Claim 10 Lives in France

Rescuers search for victims on the top of a chalet destroyed by an avalanche in the village of Le Tour, near Chamonix, in the French Alps Wednesday. (AP)
By Ian Phillips
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, February 10, 1999; 10:46 a.m. EST

CHAMONIX, France Rescue workers used dogs and sensors today in the search for survivors of avalanches that swallowed mountain chalets and killed at least 10 people near this popular ski resort.

At least two people were missing a day after the avalanches roared down a mountainside between the Alpine villages of Le Tour and Montroc-le-Planet. The dead included four children, one a 4-year-old girl.

Twenty people were pulled from the snow alive, including two from the United States.

"It's as if there has been an earthquake, only everything is covered in snow," said Blaise Agresti, commander of a mountain police brigade that worked through the night to find survivors. "The avalanche had incredible force. I was stupefied."

Two new avalanches struck the Chamonix area today, officials said, but no injuries or property damage was reported.

Tuesday's avalanches destroyed 17 chalets.

"The chalet next to ours disappeared it was pushed across the road," said Jean-Marie Pavy, 49. "There were blocks of cement and gravel everywhere. It was the apocalypse."

A search also was under way today for a 28-year-old British skier who disappeared in an avalanche Tuesday near the French Alps resort of Courchevel.

Snow continued to fall in other parts of Europe, forcing evacuations and stranding thousands in Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

Up to 16 inches of snow fell in parts of the Swiss Alps overnight and the danger of avalanches remained high, officials said.

In parts of the Austrian province of Tyrol, thousands remained trapped by record snowfall, with some unable to leave for the fifth day, and snow continued fall in much of Austria.

In Eastern Europe, an avalanche in northwestern Romania blocked a major highway after hours of heavy snow, but no injuries were reported, the Romanian Interior Ministry said.

Snow was expected to taper off in the Alps, however, and the sky was clear in Chamonix this morning. Ski runs were closed in the French Alps resort, and hundreds of skiers were trying to leave the town in buses and cars to find open slopes.

"I was skiing off trail yesterday and things looked dicey in places, but you'd have never expected something like this," said Tom Moncur, 29, from London, on a ski vacation in Chamonix. "Today I'm going to be more cautious."

About 200 rescue workers, equipped with sensors and dogs, toiled through the night in the avalanche area north of Chamonix, about 30 miles southeast of Geneva. Unable to reach the villages by vehicle or helicopter, the rescue workers resorted to skis.

"It's horrible," said Jean-Louis Verdier, the deputy mayor of Chamonix. "There is nothing left. Everything was wiped away. Where the chalets should be, there is a big hole."

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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