Heavy snowfall strands tourists in Swiss Alps

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Unusually heavy snowfall and a high risk of Alpine avalanches stranded some 13,000 tourists in the Swiss resort of Zermatt at the base of the famed Matterhorn mountain.

Only tourists who requested the air bridge were being ferried out, the official said, insisting that it was not an official evacuation.

A police official in Zermatt, a tourist magnet for backpackers and millionaires alike, said the helicopter journey to the village of Taesch took abound three minutes.

Ms Imesch added: "There is nothing to panic about, everything is fine".

The avalanche risk at Zermatt and other Swiss resorts in the south-western Valais region remained at the maximum level of 5, and also at many resorts in the French Alps including Tignes. "We really recommend that people stay at home, the avalanche risk is high, these are conditions that we've not seen since 1978", said Captain Hélène Delas, a firefighter with the Savoie Fire Department, as cited by Euronews.

Skiing out is not an option, because the avalanche risk is set at the rarely used maximum on a five-point scale - the highest it has been for nearly 10 years.

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Fresh snowfall Monday created an avalanche hazard leaving roughly 13,000 tourists stranded in Zermatt, Switzerland, for the second day in a row Tuesday. "They are working under extreme pressure", Janine Imesch of the Zermatt tourism office told reporters.

The heavy snowfall has caused casualties across the region. DOMINIC STEINMANN, KEYSTONE, via EPA-EFE Heavy snow falls in Saas Fee village, near Zermatt, Switzerland on January 9, 2018.

Snow and broken branches filled the building's corridors and staircases, but the 29 people who were inside at the time escaped unharmed.

Authorities said conditions were expected to improve Wednesday.

On the French side, where Meteo France said Tuesday the avalanche threat has diminished, rescuers were able to start looking for a British skier missing for the past two days, with a helicopter searching the area where a signal from his mobile phone was last picked up.

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