Fresh snow brings extreme avalanche risk

Fresh snow across France has raised the avalanche risk to Extreme (5/5) in western and central Pyrenees today and brought chaos to many areas. Last weekend tourists were blocked by avalanches in the Southern Alps resorts of Auron and Isola 2000.

The Auron road was opened late on Saturday afternoon. Some holiday makers had been stuck in traffic jams for 6 hours on the way to resort. Isola finally opened on Sunday. The road is threatened by a score of known avalanche paths and was one of the most expensive to maintain. The area has had over 7 meters of snow since the start of winter.

Further north in the Hautes-Alpes snow has brought traffic chaos with the high mountain Lautaret, Montgenvre, Vars and Larche passes intermittently closed to traffic. Heavy snow and rain has also hit the Pyrenees.  At Superbagnères six hundred day skiers could not return home and at Luz Ardiden over 400 skiers have been trapped when avalanches blocked the access road. Nistos in the Hautes-Pyrenees has had no electricity since Wednesday afternoon and the access road to Andorra and other resorts in the Ariege and Hautes-Pyrenees were closed. The department has set up a crisis group to manage the situation. Things are slowly getting back to normal, Barèges, Hautacam, Peyragudes, Saint-Lary and Val-Louron should reopen today but the access road to Guzet is blocked by an avalanche. Over a meter of snow has fallen at altitude in the last 24 hours in some sectors accompanied by strong winds or 40-80km/h at the start of the episode.

Extreme Avalanche Risk

Level 5 on the 5 point European scale is used to signal a risk of widespread natural or human triggered avalanches certain with extremely unstable slabs on most aspects and slope angles. Large destructive avalanches are possible. The authorities must take measures to close roads threatened by known avalanche paths and evacuate buildings in certain sectors. It is ten years since a major avalanche destroyed 20 chalets at Montroc close to Chamonix killing 12 people. Since then civil protection and zoning measures have been improved in France.

-- Additional reporting from Charles Hopper in the Pyrenees

Posted by davidof on Thursday, 12 February, 2009 at 11:21 AM

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